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Topics - Jubal

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Exilian Folk Club / Cara Dillon Chords/Lyrics
« on: May 06, 2020, 02:52:57 PM »
Yes, another of these threads!


I enjoyed this and it was better than I expected - in that from the opening clip I expected it to be a "but they're not doing this by the manual" ritual dunking on it all, cinema sins style. On watching though, actually I thought he was very fair, made some interesting points about use of space which were worth thinking about for me, and also discussed with actual interest the importance of narrative and narrative presentation in many of these fights. Also gets a bit of credit from me for recognising/accepting what I think of as the historian's reversal argument - specifically, if you get a historical text telling you that X is right and you shouldn't do Y, it certainly doesn't mean "everyone therefore did X", but definitely means that someone was doing, or arguing for doing, Y. A surprising number of people don't seem to get this fact, but it's a general truism that almost nobody spends time and effort telling people not to do things that they weren't doing anyway.

Also he shares the correct opinion about the Princess Bride's swordfight which is that it's The Best Thing.

Food Discussion - The Jolly Boar Kitchen / Kitchen Gardening
« on: April 29, 2020, 10:11:39 PM »
So, I've been accumulating pot plants at a terrifying rate since all this started. I now have a whole bunch of extra things in pots outside. The best news? They will pretty much all produce edible stuff or are directly edible.

As such, here's some thoughts on what I've been growing and why. :)


Herbs are easy-ish, even if Cara still occasionally defines my ability with plants by the one time I let a rosemary die shortly after moving to Vienna. It's a good climate for rosemary, thyme, and oregano here and in well drained soil they should do OK. I've also got a herb pot with outer loops which I'm trying to establish basil and bit more thyme in.

Here on the left we have my main herb plants - the big trough has my rosemary and oregano in it and the little pot to their right is the thyme. I'd like to repot the thyme into another trough with something else but I'm not sure what yet & my local hardware/home/plants shop doesn't do plastic rectangular planters.

I've not much to show on the basil yet - if you scroll down to the cucumbers you can see the first few seedlings coming up in the herb pot.

My herb growing is fairly successful, in that I haven't had to buy rosemary or oregano in quite a long time now, I basically produce enough for my own needs, which given I'm pretty liberal with herbs isn't bad going. I just hang them to dry in bunches in the stairwell:

And then it's a case of stripping the leaves. Easy with rosemary where the stems are woody and the leaves easily separable, much harder with oregano where one almost always ends up with bits of stem etc.


Not much to say here, I have a tomato (principe borghese variety, it should produce small lunch/snack size plum tomatoes), I got it from the supermarket, it is now in a bigger pot than it was. It's currently producing nice little yellow flowers which is hopefully a good sign.

This variety can apparently grow very big (like taller than me) but I'm hoping it won't get quite that high... I have a bamboo cane ready for when it needs to climb higher.


I have three strawberry plants, kept in a pot together. Unfortunately I just had to cut some of the flowers/early fruits because of a possible mildew infection on them, but hopefully it won't get any further or reappear. They seem to be flowering nicely anyway.


So I got some cucumber seeds free with a bottle of gin, and expected them to be rubbish, so I sowed them all in a pot (the green one on the right here) to see if any would come up...

And now here are my two cucumber plants in their nice big pot outside, with canes to climb up! Cucumbers naturally are ground-spreading, but they can climb, and it's much better to get them to do so if growing in a small enclosed space which I am, so I'm going to get them to go up these bamboos as they grow.

And here are ALL THE OTHER SEEDLINGS, because every single seed I planted germinated successfully. About three died when transplanting between pots, but I still have a lot of spares. I will need to find new forever (OK, for the season until they probably die over winter) homes for all these little ones in the near future!


Finally possibly the easiest and neatest of the lot, cress, grown on folded damp kitchen towel. When it was a bit colder my flat was too dry for it and it was drying out overnight, and often I think it wants more light than my one functional windowsill gets, but I've had some good crops all the same. The "in bag on windowsill for a few days, then take out and water 1-2 times a day, soaking the kitchen towel and draining run-off" system seems reliable.

And it's largely a lunch utility food for me at least, or versatile as a garnish. It probably isn't as much of a culinary heavy lifter as e.g. the herbs, but it's a nice thing to grow now and again and as you're eating the seedlings it's neat and harvested, eaten straighway, sorted and done with in a fairly short span of time.

Have any of you been doing food gardening during the pandemic/anyone have any particular thoughts on the above?

Food Discussion - The Jolly Boar Kitchen / Acharuli Khachapuri
« on: April 29, 2020, 06:46:57 PM »
Acharuli Khachapuri

My first attempt at making one of the most visibly distinctive classic Georgian dishes, from the Adjara region in the southwest of the country. Khachapuris - cheesebreads - are a wide variety of local dishes in Georgia, but the acharuli with its boat shape and egg topping is one of the most visually distinctive varieties. Here's my attempt to make it, using more or less this recipe with a couple of modifications, in pictures :)

First, dough making. Equal mix of about 50mls each of milk and water, warm to 30-40c, mix in yeast, add to flour with a small dash of oil and half an egg (maybe salt for taste but I didn't, tiny bit of sugar for a more golden colour), mix in enough flour to make a reasonable dough.

Cover and leave to rise for 2hrs. This went badly for me because my yeast was old and rubbish. Use good in-date yeast and your bread won't be as horrifically dense as mine was. I moved it from the bookshelf to a super low temp (40C) oven for a while but that didn't help alas.

Once maybe 1h30 is up, you can make the filling. Or at any time really, it refrigerates OK for a few hours, you're going to cook it anyway. Here we are: mix of 2/3 mozzarella to 1/3 feta, plus an egg, a little bit of butter (like under 50g), and in my case some added salt and tarragon.

Smush it all together nicely with a fork.

OK, get the dough out once it's risen and knead it for ten mins or so, then make a flat boat shape, put the filling in the middle, and wrap it round like so:

I used the other half egg from earlier to glaze it, and added more tarragon on top.

Then cook it! I cooked it for 12 mins, then took it out, cracked the egg, and put it back in: I should actually have added it earlier as it took rather longer to cook the egg than expected (recipe said 3 mins, was definitely more like 6) and I think I probably overcooked the other bits as a result. A final stick of butter may be added at the very end.

Goes well with wine, it's Georgian after all!

Overall it worked fine and made for a decent dinner, and if the bread had worked properly then I think it would've really been very nice. Can recommend!

General Chatter - The Boozer / Hasdrubal the Pigeon
« on: April 29, 2020, 02:43:15 PM »
So I woke up this morning and there was a fledgling pigeon outside my back door. I've tried offering it food and water to unclear levels of avail. I've also named it Hasdrubal.

This is Hasdrubal:

Hasdrubal is clearly a fledgling - that's what all those fluff feathers around the head are.

Next step is to try and move Hasdrubal up onto the wall. This will mean the parents are better able to find their fledgling and hopefully will start taking parental responsibility... if I still have a pigeon here overnight I guess I have to start thinking about temporary nest construction. I'm reasonably hopeful that there shouldn't be predator issues here, I've never seen foxes this deep into Vienna and the cats are mostly indoor ones (though I did once see a feral polecat in 8th district) and the area where I am is quite closed off. Crows are more of a worry but rarely come down here.

Wish me luck in my adventures as a temporary bird parent!

General Gaming - The Arcade / Shogun 2 TW Free on Steam now
« on: April 27, 2020, 06:30:56 PM »
In "actually neat stuff" today, Shogun 2 is free, as they announced on Twitter. So I guess I'm finally actually getting a copy.

General Chatter - The Boozer / "My Body Is A Temple" - But What Kind?
« on: April 25, 2020, 02:07:12 PM »
I was contemplating how "my body is a temple" works depressingly well with the extent to which my body feels like it's falling to bits sometimes at the moment, and then produced some further thoughts on the matter as follows. Which sort are you?

(The below is intended entirely as gently meant amusement, I hope nobody is upset at the presentation of their religious structures but apologise in advance if so).

So I kinda thought I'd done this already, but I just realised I never got round to moving a bill to making external staff advertisements permanent as a thing and I've been doing it without having any authority to do so. Oops. Anyway, this does that for a bunch of roles. The senior, constitutionally defined admins it currently does not allow us to advertise externally for, which I think is sensible - I think we generally need people with good understandings of the community to deal with those roles, they're very necessary, and if we hit unforeseen circumstances we can always endorse external advertising for those as a separate thing.

This also makes the roles probationary for four months, which I think is sensible given our prior experiences with people getting given admin jobs and then rapidly vanishing on us again.

Simple majority vote, one week.

This Plaza moves:

a) That a full and functional staff team is necessary for a fully functional Exilian, and it is therefore necessary to advertise externally for certain roles.

a) That three administration roles not noted in the constitution (that is, those of heteriarches or despotes) are currently endorsed as ideal by the Plaza, comprising the respective areas of Communications and Social Media, Content and Editorial, and Membership and Development officers.
b) That should it be necessary, external advertisement for the two junior of the regularly elected staff roles, those of Tribounos or Spatharios, would also be acceptable.
c) That where necessary, the administration should be able to externally advertise for any junior staff positions, those of Logothetes and Hekatontarchoi, that they see fit to create as per their constitutional powers to do so.

a) That the adminsitrative council may advertise for these externally to the current citizenship for the roles designated in section 2.
b) That the current administrative council may advertise for all or any of these three roles as they see fit, at times of their choosing, and are not obliged to fill all of them.
c) That all of these roles should be scrutinised and voted on by the citizens as per normal procedure.
d) That all successful applicants to these roles will immediately be granted citizenship and, where applicable, patricianship, as per normal procedure.
e) That in cases where a staff member has individual power to create a new role, Sebastokrator should approve external advertisement being used for such a role.

a) That external applicants should be treated as probationary for a number of months after recieving the role.
b) That granting of citizenship as part of recieving a role, if not otherwise earned, will only be treated as permanent if they remain active in the role for two months or more, and granting of patricianship only if they remain active in the role for four months or more.
c) That adjudication of their status of remaining active in the role should require visible evidence of their continued activity in the role, with discretion given to the Sebastokrator to make judgements in unclear cases with the option of recourse to the Tribounos if a decision of this sort is challenged.

Since we have these for history, space, palaeontology, and nature, I thought a physical sciences one might be good.

And this video on making a cloud chamber at home was moderately amusing:

Computer Game Development - The Indie Alley / Monstrous nomenclature
« on: April 20, 2020, 01:26:06 PM »
So, I've been adding more to The Exile Princes lately, which has meant trying to work out turning some more medieval demons into enemy creatures for it - which has led me to be pondering the problem of naming them quite a lot. When a monster appears which is new to you, do you prefer it if its name is a) plain words (e.g. "devourer", "abyssal beast"), b) contains plain elements (e.g. "cemetaur")  or c) novel (e.g. "sarien", "vorthal")?

Initial thoughts: a) works best for individualised monsters. Fighting the Master of Lies works well, fighting 2d4 Masters of Lies works less well. It also seems to give a more demonology/biblical feel, though I honestly don't know why (As in, I don't know if that's a result of biblical texts actually giving creatures plainer  names, or if it just dates back to things like Warhammer where the bloodletters, plaguebearers, screamers etc have the plain-ness as a distinct nomenclature feature).

The middle option I think works well mainly if you can relate the creature well to something else. Like, the cemetaur is a disappointment in The Witcher because we're used to -taur being half-and-half beasts (cen-, mino-), even if that is etymologically nonsensical. So it's possibly the best option but hard to actually use in practice.

Doing something really novel gives more freedom of action, but OTOH it can make it harder to explain to people why they should care about the new creature and how they should feel about it, because they have less mental hooks to hang it on. That's great for a weird/SF aesthetic, but can be more of a struggle in a fantasy one, especially if you have limited time or options to build up people's feelings and mythos around a creature.

(Also it strikes me that this could be a good subject for an article, if anyone would be interested in reading that?)

Food Discussion - The Jolly Boar Kitchen / Easter food (and chocolate)
« on: April 12, 2020, 08:40:18 PM »
Anyone done anything exciting?

I had one box of chocolates in the house and decided I'd try those. I've had three so far: not for lack of appetite per se, but they're excruciatingly sweet for my tastes, to the point where it's actually offputting, so I've not really done easter chocolate this year :/ Or had energy to make hot cross buns. I should do more baking soon...

John Conway, mathematician and creator of Conway's Game of Life, has apparently died of Coronavirus aged 82.

There's a long profile of him from a few years ago here. My knowledge of him only really comes from the Game of Life, which is a set of rules for a cellular automaton (almost bitterly ironically, one of the key rules being "a cell with too many live neighbours is overcrowded and dies"). But he had a lot of other mathematical achievements, most of which I'm too tired and not enough of a mathematician to get my head around.

You can find an implementation of the Game of Life here.

General Chatter - The Boozer / Alternative Wikihow Captions
« on: April 12, 2020, 02:08:49 PM »
These amused me - all instruction/illustration images from Wikihow with alternative captions. I have zero clue what most of these were originally illustrating...

And finally my favourite of the bunch:

Stones, Stories, and Wasted Salt: A Visit to Carthage

The view out from the Byrsa hill, the old acropolis of Roman and Punic Carthage

Carthage. Carthago, as the Romans called it (to its Punic founders it was Qart Hadasht, or New City) – heart of one of the two powers that contested the dominion of the ancient Mediterranean, against the city of Rome, and which has hung over the consciousness of the world ever since. For the Romans, Carthage became their archetypal enemy, mythologised into their very origin story in the Aeneid, and many a writer since has attempted to see that conflict written into their own times. The Romans, being the victors, of course get to tell the story, and others have embellished it for them since: Rome brave, land-bound, public spirited, victorious, where Carthage was a naval power, mercantile, cunning, defeated. The nineteenth century historians, on the basis of no antecedent whatsoever, claimed that when Rome sacked Carthage in 146 B.C. they sowed the ground with salt, so that nothing could grow there ever again – a total, final ending to the great narrative clash of Empires.

Another word that was in my head on the plane journey there was Jubal. Actually a Hebrew name, perhaps rooted in a verb to do with carrying or the word for a stream, that is in English superficially similar to the –bal ending names of the Carthaginians (hence Hannibal, “Baal is Gracious”, or Hasdrubal, “Help of Baal”). This superficial link ended up with it appearing on a list of Carthaginian names which a twelve year old in Britain in the year 2006 was reading through with interest, trying to come up with an internet username. Jubal Barca – initials to “Carthaginian” names, written in by a boy who had a fascination with what the losing side looked like, what history might have been, a fascination that would end up becoming a degree and then a career. The username stuck and I’m still using it today: Carthage and misconceptions about Carthage have been written across more than half my life. I had finally been given the chance to give way to the draw that Carthage has always had for me. But what would I find when I got there, between the stones and the stories?

A view over modern Carthage, taken on my first morning there.
It took two flights to get there, from Vienna via Istanbul, watching the clouds clump like flocks of a cyclops’ sheep and wondering about the lives of the people below. It was just a week or two before travel restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic would start to emerge, and as we paraded out of the plane a masked government official had us parade past a newly unveiled thermal imaging camera, with a cluster of journalists on standby recording the event. It was health security theatre more than anything – with a disease with a long incubation time, the likelihood of picking it up by catching someone with an actual fever coming in was probably low – but in weeks to come it would feel like a premonition, a raincloud in advance of a storm.

When I exited the terminal, I was immediately set upon by two enthusiastic – overly so – men who “offered” to carry my baggage to a taxi for me, little short of grabbing it. My laptop bag was balanced on top of my case, and promptly fell off and got wrapped in the wheels as the man tried to move far too fast with it. They of course then asked for payment for their service, aware I suspect that I would at minimum have ten dinar notes. I acquiesced and tried not to roll my eyes; they’d carried my bags all of ten metres, and dropped one in the process. I paid anyway.

Finally in the taxi, the driver was calm and friendly, and we passed blocks of flats, scrappy open land, and even a herd of sheep on our way. Although we took a wrong turning (apparently there was some error in the provided address), a quick pull-in by some columns and this was quickly rectified. Another tip paid later, I thus arrived at the “Coeur de Carthage” studio, which I can recommend especially if you want to do what I did and cover the ground on foot. It is a small apartment room adjoining the house of a medical scientist, nicely furnished and with breakfast included.

After a brief rest, I set off out into the evening. Modern Carthage is a leafy, suburban area, notable for hosting a significant number of foreign embassies (presumably on account of it being rather nicer for the occupants than having their residences in Tunis proper). I saw my first birds of the trip fairly quickly – a greenfinch and a collared dove – and then looped round some of the nearby streets. A couple of taxi drivers tried to signal to me or offer me lifts, and I began my education in the fact that a foot traveller in Carthage needs more than anything else the ability to politely and repeatedly refuse taxi drivers, who roam the streets in their cars offering tours and travel to anyone who looks like they might be buying. I passed under the solemn gaze of an especially leonine cat as I looped round and walked down past Carthage Hannibal station, part of the TGM light rail line that runs from Tunis through the coastal surburban towns to the north – the station was closed for repair work when I was there, and the crossing was a case of looking left and right to check no trains were coming, and then walking across the tracks with crossed fingers.

The circular lake of the ancient military port.
From there my path took me past the Serbian embassy and down to the sea, where a flock of sparrows – the sparrows in Tunisia are an interbred mix of the Spanish and House sparrows, and look like the half-and-half mix one might expect, with chocolate brown crowns to the head but an otherwise mostly house-sparrow sort of look to them. Little laughing doves with their rose-and-grey feathers, which I’d first encountered in Tbilisi the year before, I soon found were likewise a common sight. The sea stretched out from all of them, with Cap Bon on the other side of the Bay of Tunis looming in the distance.

I turned south, heading inland a bit and then parallel with the shoreline, keeping an eye out for eating places - and wound my way through streets that mostly contained fairly large, isolated houses with white walls and flat rooves, catching sight of some less familiar avian wildlife, a small black-capped bird with a distinctive red eye-ring and a sharp insect-eating beak – a Sardinian Warbler, which I was to see numerous times on the trip. With the sky beginning to darken, I passed a cluster of restaurants and turned back towards the sea. More cats eyed me warily as I passed, though few of them felt the need to deign to move. The cats of Carthage seemed for the most part more relaxed and less skinny than those I’ve seen in many Mediterranean towns – it was hard to tell how many were feral, but it seemed like there wasn’t much of an overpopulation of them, and they were able to manifest a certain calm pride in their surroundings.

I arrived with the last of the evening light at a smallish loop-shaped inlet from the sea, with a round island with ruins in the middle of it. Now only a single cormorant paddled on the water, and a few small boats were pulled up on the beach, but in my mind’s eye I was reconstructing what this would once have been: the military port of Carthage, from which its triremes sailed to dominate the Western Mediterranean, from which even in the throes of its defeat in the Third Punic War it could strike out and embarrass the Roman navy – itself likely built into a functioning war force mainly to counter the Carthaginians’ dominion over the seas.

For food I looped round past the gate to the Salammbo Tophet (on which more later) to the main road, walked back to the cluster of restaurants I had found earlier, and ate at Yam’s, a pizza place. The no-smoking area proved unfortunately advisory which was definitely a downside of the experience, but the smoothie was very good and the pizza, with smoked salmon and lemon slices baked onto it, was excellent and can be recommended.

Looking past part of a Roman statue and across to Cape Bon.
The next morning I phoned for breakfast, failed to realise that the brown stuff in the cup was going to be coffee, and had rather a resulting shock, but decided that when in… well, Carthage… and drank it anyway. The range of toast, pastry, and fruit was good – the strawberry yoghurt proved too artifically sweet for me. I set out in reasonable time, and looped up the Byrsa hill, past a large hotel, through raucous bird chatter, seeing a pigeon, sparrows, and a couple of chaffinches, and looked out over the leafy city from under the shade of a line of trees. It later turned out that this was a rather long way round if going on foot – there are straighter uphill routes to get to the entrance, which is on the landward side – but it was a pleasant enough walk.

The hilltop was not quite what I expected. For one thing, its dominant building, and the first one I entered, is not the museum at all, but the Acropolium, a nineteenth century French colonial church. The church’s dome is a dominant feature of the Carthage skyline, and its insides are beautiful, with light blue colours and striking paintings giving it an eye-catching but airy feel, with a level of simplicity that feels more comfortable to my eye than the somewhat oppressive over-gildedness that some larger Catholic churches seem to have. No longer an active church, the building is owned by the government and used as a concert and event venue. It’s apparently situated above a Punic temple to the healing deity Eshmun, visible in its basement, though I didn’t see or find any way down to that.

That day the Acropolium was full of life - in a certain streak of biblical irony, it contained a craft market. I headed in, and ended up being accosted by another taxi driver (if you are noticing this being a theme, dear reader, bear in mind this is under a day into my trip). I managed to persuade him that my legs were perfectly functional, but ended up purchasing a guidebook, by Abdelmajid Ennabli: it proved of limited utility given its only very brief descriptions of the actual sites, but does have a few interesting notes on the archaeology and struggle to save Carthage from rapid twentieth century development, not all of it successful. The church itself wandered round briefly,took a couple of photos, and got some helpful advice. Purchasing a ticket (the tickets are day-long and allow access to as many sites as you can get round in the time), I discovered that the main museum was closed, so I headed directly out to the Roman forum on the Byrsa – the heart of old Carthage.

The Byrsa hill - a waste of Roman salt?
The Byrsa hill, on that morning, was the stuff of poetry. I even wrote some. Dripping in honeyed sunshine, the columns of the once mighty Roman forum stood palely overlooking the wide panoramic sweep of Tunis. Bits of cracked statue lined the way, and more ruins (including an out of place looking statue of) sat under the trees nearby as if to enjoy the shade. Beneath them on the slope, tighter-packed clusters of walls showed the outlines of Carthaginian street plans, looking cosy, jumbled and red-brown where their Roman successors atop the hill are formal and pale. A nondescript little bird that was probably a female black redstart danced up and down from one of the thick, heavy-looking wall sections.

There are olive and fruit trees at the top of the hill as well as evergreens, and in the shade small finches were noticeable, especially little yellow serins. A chaffinch I saw caused me meanwhile to not only do a double-take but to actually note the bird as unidentified until I was able to get advice on it. North Africa has a number of colour-variant subspecies of birds familiar to Europeans: the chaffinches have greenish-yellow in the wing and grey-blue heads rather than the more familiar orangey colour scheme of their European cousins, while the blue-tits have an extremely dark navy blue on the head rather than the pale blue of their northern counterparts. I saw my first bulbuls here too, an entirely new bird for me. The name is a misnomer, derived from a Middle-eastern term for a nightingale: they are brown birds with dark heads, often heard making distinctive bubbling noises, and visibly sociable: my suspicion from some of the video I took is that they groom each other and eat parasites from one another’s feathers in the process, but I’m not enough of a behavioural ecologist to be really sure.

The ways around the Byrsa site were confusing – I found one place where an iron bar seemed to block the path, but another path could lead one to the other side of the same barrier. I eventually headed down to see the Carthaginian streets more closely, and looked up to the forum. Through the old walls swept a cascade of yellow flowers of different kinds. The apocryphal story of Carthage’s destruction, salt-sown so that nothing could ever grow there again, sprang ironically to mind as I looked up the overgrown slopes. Carthage was full of people and fruit and flowers beyond measure – a beautiful romantic ruin that one could almost believe, somewhere far beneath it, had a thin, long since insignificant, layer of wasted salt.

A Tunisian blue-tit - note the almost navy dark blue crest.
The reality of course was declared by the Roman columns atop the hill: Carthage was probably never fully destroyed and was rebuilt as a Roman city, one of the key bread basket ports of the Roman Mediterranean. It later spent a century as the capital of Vandal Africa and then a while as a Byzantine exarchate before the Islamic invasions resulted in the walls being torn down for fear of Byzantine revolt or recapture: thereafter the city, whilst not abandoned, declined in favour of Tunis. It began to be resettled intensively in the late nineteenth century when Tunisia as a French protectorate was the focus of a mixture of antiquarian interest and missionary, with the Acropolium built in 1884 as part of a project by French cardinal, missionary and anti-slavery activist  Charles Lavigerie to restore the ancient metropolitan see of Carthage (which was granted by the papacy, though in 1964 the Tunisian state seized all but 5 of the country’s seventy or so churches, and the Catholic Church renamed the see to that of Tunis and made it purely titular in nature). Its growth as a centre for tourism, Tunisian history, and modern diplomacy suggests that its story may well be far from over yet.

Down inland from the Byrsa hill is a large area of beautiful but unfortunately rubbish-filled trees: this proved to be a common problem anywhere except the most tourist-heavy parts of Carthage. I walked around it before wandering in for a bit: the path through it was closed at the Byrsa end, so I walked around it (it was open at the other end: the design seems to have been to have walking access from the Byrsa to the Amphitheatre, but the lack of good road crossings and upkeep seem to have reduced that aim to a couple of rubbish-strewn paths). As I walked along the pavement, though, it was clear that the litter was far from stopping wildlife in the area: I caught sight of a hoopoe, striking and instantly recognisable with its orange and white feathers and its crest swept back behind its head. I was only able to get a very rough picture before it flew off into the trees, but it was nonetheless one of my key memories of the day. Some things are always special to see, for however short a time.

The Amphitheatre.
The Amphitheatre at Carthage was standing for centuries after the city’s decline, even into the middle ages, until it was eventually pulled down for building stone for use elsewhere. The arena itself remains, though, complete with long since fully exposed underground rooms and tunnels, some of which you can still wander through. It’s an impressively large ruin, surrounded by trees now instead of spectators. Imagining it as a place of spectacle isn’t hard – it still has a quintessentially Roman magnificence to it all these centuries later. Imagining it as a place of bloodshed is a little more jarring, somehow, with the sun and the scraps of litter and the overhanging trees all denying that anything fast could ever have happened here. The extent to which some of Carthage’s antiquities are only partially kept in full tourist order makes them feel like they sink outside time altogether somehow. It’s far from the truth: between preservation, tourism, local use, and the thronging world outside, time stops not even for the stones.

I headed back up and over the Byrsa hill again and down into town for lunch. I passed the Palaeochristian museum, which occupies a large central area of town but unfortunately appeared to be closed, and stopped at a sandwich shop to get some lunch. It turned out to be called “quick”, though the sign was only in Arabic and it lacks an online presence which makes it hard for me to pass on the recommendation. They did pretty reasonable made-to-order baguettes at inexpensive prices, nonetheless, and I was introduced to harissa, a standard hot sauce that is a national condiment in Tunisia. Wisely, I opted for only a very limited amount of the stuff, resulting in something that my fragile British palate and spice sensitivity could just about handle – for those who enjoy spicy food, this is something to seek out when in Tunisia.

My next stop was one of the more quietening ones on the trip, the so-called Salammbo Tophet, filled with the gravestones of extremely young Punic children, most of them babies. Here was the place to confront one of the most controversial questions of Punic Carthage – the possibility that these infants had been sacrificed. The name of the place itself doubly evokes the theory; the term Tophet has been adopted to refer to this and similar Punic sites, from a biblical reference to a place where children were burned, and Salammbo, now used to refer to a TGM station and area of southern Carthage, is the leading lady in Gustave Flaubert’s novel of the same name, which in its heady scenes of Carthaginians feeding their young to a giant flaming statue etched the Roman-era image onto modern minds. Modern popular presentations of Carthage lean heavily on the story: the opening cinematic for the Carthaginians in Rome: Total War, one of the games I most grew up with it, has the Carthaginian voice giving superstitious (albeit realistic) fears of a future without his city, amid heavily layered mentions of crying children. The discovery of the Tophet was seen by many as the archaeological confirmation of child sacrifice taking place: this was Flaubert’s biblical horror written large in little gravestones.

The Salammbo Tophet. What sort of graves were these?
The evidence for child sacrifice in Carthage is more complicated, and heavily contested, than the popular presentations allow. Some Roman and Greek writers certainly mentioned it, with a horror ironic considering their own practices of killing unwanted children by exposure. This was the primary basis for Flaubert’s creation, although the Romano-Greek corpus lacks consistency in details like how sacrifices took place. The cremated infant bones found, along with animal remains, in Tophets and similar sanctuaries are unmistakeably such – but two schools of thought have emerged as to how to interpret them, with ferocious academic debate going on across a number of papers in recent years. One suggests that newborns and other infant deaths before general acceptance into the community may all have been burned and buried at the tophets, not yet being part of the community proper, pointing to the lack of newborns in main cemetery locations and the consistency of the finds with usual levels of early infant mortality. The opposing argument accepts the sacrifice hypothesis, pointing to the Tophets containing presumably sacrificial animal remains and the grave inscriptions which may be read as dedications. Lacking as we do the vast majority of the Punic textual corpus, we will very likely never know for certain whether the Salammbo Tophet signifies a place of ritual death or a place of communal sadness at children who died too young, a grim hallmark of Carthaginian culture or a blood libel that the victors of history damned the losers with, cutting out their ability to answer back.

Either way, the Tophet is a place that intrinsically feels solemn. A small bird danced out of view of my camera on a wall, while collared doves and a cat with one lopsided eye shut watched over the place: one part of the site is in a shadowed arched chamber, while in another the base of a tree has grown over one of the grave markers, ballooning down to slowly envelop it. It is not a place that feels painful to be in, as some tragic historical sites can, but it has a quiet, ghostly feel to it. The solemnity is a far cry from the pomp and power of Roman ruins like the amphitheatre: strange, perhaps, how we are unsettled by the thought of cultures, whose religious beliefs may have driven them to human sacrifice, but not by one that we know full well arranged large-scale fights to the death for entertaining a bored public. But perhaps it is inevitable. Modern Western European cultures in a thousand conscious and unconscious ways draw their narratives and sense of self from Rome and Greece, and its sense of the other from Carthage and Persia. The writing of our popular histories does not just determine which dark parts of the past we know about, and which we do not, but which we are horrified by and which we are desensitised to.

The centre of the Admiralty island.
There is a small public garden a few minutes’ walk from the Tophet, which is pleasant enough though not especially notable, and needs upkeep, the seats in some cases reduced to iron frames without remaining wooden boards. Foregoing the nearby art café, I headed round, passing a number of large villa-like houses and some astonishingly prettily flowered hedges, to the round inlet I had seen the day before. I passed the Tunisian Oceanographic Museum, which I didn't have time to look into, and then stepped out onto the island of the admiralty, the centrepiece of the ancient Punic military port.

I had my ticket checked by a man who had to break off from a ferocious argument with a fellow Tunisian to do so, with them both suddenly calming down with a mutter of the word “tourist”, the arguer waiting patiently while my ticket was checked before launching back into full-throated verbal cannon-fire moments later. There are few trees on the island, and the circular ruins are well exposed, with the large runs of an ancient trireme dock still very visible. Looking out to see from one end I saw a black-headed gull – one of relatively few seaward birds for the trip – but other than that occasional smaller birds were relatively few and confined themselves to the dense areas of hedge and shrub that cover some parts of the area. The view up towards the Acropolium and the Byrsa is striking, with the water providing a beautiful foreground on a nice day.

The Admiralty Island almost more than the Byrsa feels like a heart-point of Punic Carthage. The Carthaginian Empire was built and maintained on its reputed naval prowess: while the Byrsa may have been the nerve-centre of Carthaginian authority and the site of its last stand, it was the Admiralty Island from where Carthaginian power radiated out to Sicily, Spain, Sardinia, the Balearics, and beyond. I stood for a moment in the middle of the central ring of ruins and imagined the fingers of this civilisation reaching out from shore to shore to shore around the sea. Even in long defeat, the echoes remain, in the ruins and in our culture: an image of elephants crossing the Alps; the names of a member of the A-Team, a central African revolutionary, and a geometry problem; and, curiously enough, possibly the word mayonnaise, the sauce being named for the port of Mahón in the Balearics which in turn derives its name from Mago Barca, brother of Hannibal. The Romans had no interest in destroying the memory of Carthage – what use a victory if nobody knows who you beat, after all – but one has a sense too that they would never quite have been able to, and that in some small, barely whispered way, the ships of the Admiralty island sail still.

The market in the Acropolium: biblical irony perhaps?
I passed a dog-walker who greeted me and had a brief chat in English – the area felt largely trilingual with English, French and Arabic all noticeable around Carthage. My last stop in the lower part of town was the Mago Quarter, the entrance to which I had passed on the first day when I went down to the see. This is an excavated area of Romano-Punic housing: for all that the nineteenth century historians had been keen on images of Carthage’s total destruction, much Roman housing seems to have retained the tight-packed Carthaginian plan, much less open and more focused on private space than the Roman emphasis on wide streets and the public sphere. Part of an ancient outer wall/gate section is also visible here, impressive in its scale as so much of old Carthage is.

After a short stop at the studio to breathe and put my camera on to charge (I had taken literally hundreds of photographs by this point in the day and my camera battery wasn’t quite up to the job), I had a quick run up to the Acropolium again and bought presents and souvenirs. The range of stalls was impressive, and interesting to compare to other Mediterranean countries I had been to. Noisettes, honeys and molasses were fairly common, as were pesto-type sauces, cheeses, dried tomatoes and spices. A number of clothing stalls were there too, with impressively ornate cloaks and waistcoats available as well as silk drapes and scarves. Perhaps the most obvious non-present item, of course, was wine, a standard in the northern Mediterranean. While Tunisia does not ban alcohol entirely and apparently does still retain something of a wine industry, alcohol certainly felt like far less of a feature of shops and menus than in most countries I’ve been to previously. Mint tea is apparently closer to being a national drink.

I attempted a quick run up to the theatre before it closed, but was met by a couple of Tunisians who, seemingly amused, pointed ostentatiously at imaginary watches before shooing me back again. The walk was not wasted though, since I got my nicest views of a male black redstart there, before setting off down into Carthage once more for the day. That evening, as a result of my purchases, I needed to get more cash out in order to eat – this unfortunately proved a struggle. It’s worth noting if you want to visit Tunisia that whilst some cash points will happily accept European bank cards, this seems to be extremely variable (in one case, I had the same cash point accept my card at one point and not another). In the event I ended up doing a forty minute walk until about the fourth cash point I tried finally gave me some money and I was able to stumble back and get a tuna panini and fig jam crepe from an art café in the middle of town.

Part of the vast Antonine Baths complex.
On my final day, my plan was to do the northward parts of the ruins, having mostly done the southward section on the previous day. Aware of potential brown liquid confusion I made myself a mint green tea, found to my pleasant surprise that today's yoghurt was of a nicer variety that had at some point made acquaintance with actual strawberries, and headed down, crossing some roads and passing a policeman fast asleep in his car, to the archaeological park containing the Antonine Baths. It’s worth noting that Carthage is for the most part poorly designed for walking: there aren’t enough crossings, the rail bridges often don’t have pavement under them. It’s still perfectly do-able if one is careful and doesn’t need step-free access, but the accessibility of most sites isn’t quite what it could be.

Finding it oddly hard to navigate an entrance system to the Antonine Baths park that was empty despite being designed for seriously large scale crowds, interestingly bigger than that at the Byrsa hill, I emerged into the wooded inland area of the park. I was fairly tired from the previous day’s exertions and suspect I took less in on the second, especially when it came to wildlife – I missed a small bird in the high reeds on the way in and several small dark shapes flashed through the trees in front of my at various points – though it was here that I got my best views of bulbuls at any point in the trip.

Emerging from the woods, I found the baths themselves, which can best and most obviously be described as enormous. One of the largest bath complexes in the Roman world, they were almost unique in not having much of an underfloor layer – instead, most of the bathing areas were on the first floor of the building, their proximity to the sea making the construction of heating hypocausts in the usual way difficult. Servants’ areas and hypocausts could then be located on the ground floor, which is where modern tourists can wander still (and do, with a large cluster of East Asian tourists flocking through the place while I was there). Today, a maze of ruins remains, occasionally with grass growing on the stonework but with a concrete floor. One of the elegantly decorated column-tops, standing alone and presumably re-erected far above the rest of the complex, had a flock of spotless starlings, endemic to southern Spain and North Africa and reasonably common in trees and on higher ruins. It took me a while to be sure I’d seen them, since they are similarly sized and coloured to blackbirds, best told apart by seeing them in the sunlight where their characteristic iridescent feather gloss is visible, as well as having noticeably longer and pointier beaks and lacking any yellow around the eye. The baths of Carthage are known as the Antonine baths, erected in the reign of Emperor Antoninus Pius, fed originally by mountain water from an aqueduct built by Hadrian. By the Imperial era, then, Carthage was not merely still occupied but a centre of Imperial largesse. The Romans may have defeated the Carthaginian state, but the city wormed its way into their favour nonetheless.

A pair of bulbuls engaged in some sort of grooming activity.
Heading up out of the bath ruins and back into the wooded areas, there was much more to see still. A large number of Punic graves are extant on the site – one area which I think was mainly graves was being actively protected by guards, who shooed me off, the lack of signage meaning I doubt I was the only one confused. After a frustrating wait for another tourist to stop climbing on a particular grave so I could photograph it, I went and found my only reptile sighting (oddly, considering that many of the ruins should have been lizard central) for the whole trip: a small gecko or similar, ducking in and out of an ancient Punic burial chamber and vanishing when I got too close.

The archaeological park’s more inland ruins include more Punic work, such as an area of kilns, and range forward to the early Christian period, including a basilica and the so-called chapel of Asterius. The chapel is far from obvious, and is underground, accessible by descending a set of steps. It has particularly nice floor mosaics, though, and is worth going to for that reason. I noticed that other tourists petered out the further one got from the main baths complex, so the inland areas were easier to spend time looking at and photographing without disturbance. Various other building ruins with circular openings sit like hobbit-holes around the end wall of the park, presumably continuing on under the road and beyond the reach of excavators to the inland side.

Heading north from the archaeological park and brushing off another taxi driver as I went, my next stop was at an area of Roman villas, which included some stunning mosaics. A lot of mosaic panels were being stored in an overhung area of the ruins, which seemed to be semi-closed to the public, but one villa with semi-restored sections has a number on display. Hedgehogs, peacocks, hunting scenes, and a range of other birds are all noticeable: this is also an excellent place to get views down over Carthage, being some way uphill from most of the city.

The theatre, looking down toward the stage.
The park with the villas also includes the Roman Odeon, which is not made at all obvious: one has to more or less leave the path and go right up and over the brow of the hill, and then suddenly, amid thorny scrub with bulbuls bubbling occasionally in the bushes, the huge expanse of the Odeon’s foundations was visible, at impressive scale. I circumnavigated it and then headed down again: on the way out of the villas site, I attempted to buy a postcard from a small stall (there are many such selling cheap tourist items outside most of the larger sites) and somehow walked away with a ten-postcard folding booklet and a very small tagine. I’m still not quite sure how it happened.

The theatre was, this time, accessible: it is still complete, built into the hillside sweeping down from the Odeon. Here, the Roman seating has been repurposed for modern concert use and a contemporary stage infrastructure sits at the centre of it, such that there is comparatively little to see historically, but briefly popping by to take in the scale is worthwhile and I saw a shrike looking down from a distant floodlight as well as Sardinian warblers bouncing along the fence.

I stopped for a drink of water at a small cluster of columns, alone except for the chatter of mostly invisible birds in the shrub and the apparently statutorily necessary cluster of 2-5 local men smoking, gesticulating, speaking animatedly on mobile phones, or all of the above, which was a feature noticeable around just about every archaeological site in the area. The columns are full height and quite spectacular, and I suspect the scrub nearby would have been quite good for wildlife had I spent more time there.

To keep to my itinerary though, I headed north, finding that the pavement eventually petered out along the road to Sidi Bou Said. I passed the huge modern mosque which, for all its sheer scale, feels somewhat downhill and out of the way compared to the rambling heights of the Acropolium which dominate the city – the past and present of Carthage in a bit of quiet competition for space and supremacy perhaps. Here, the buildings end and a mix of scrub and farmland dominates the space between Carthage and its northern neighbour, at least if you take the slightly more inland route that I favoured.

One of the many asphodel flowers that dominated the basilica of Damous el Karita.
Along the way, I reached the columns that had been the reason for choosing this way – the ruins of the Christian basilica of Damous el Karita. Unlike the grand Roman ruins in Carthage proper, these bore not even the possibility of a ticket checker: some distance from the end of the pavement, they stood overgrown at the road-side, open to any wanderer, but I was the only one there. The ruins were thick with tall white asphodel flowers, and I picked my way through the old columns. The site of the basilica itself is reasonably clear and would make an excellent picnic spot, pleasantly comparatively free of rubbish in most place perhaps due to their siting a bit further from the centre.

The ruins are impressive in scale, and may well be one of the most important and sizeable pieces of late antique and early medieval Christian architecture in North Africa, despite their relatively low billing in guides to Carthage’s antiquities. The extent goes well beyond the main basilica and into the surrounding scrub. Notably, if one takes the a little trodden path south from the end of the Basilica, back in the direction of Carthage, there is a deep sunken rotunda, very impressively constructed, with two right-angled sets of stairs leading into and out of it. This was probably some sort of walk-in baptistry, and is well worth looking for if you go to the site. The surrounding scrub has a lot of potential for birds, and I got excellent views of a great grey shrike here, a small carnivorous “butcher bird” notable for keeping larders of insects skewered on thorn bushes. Beside the Byrsa hill I think it was probably the nicest place I found in my trip, surrounded by big white flowers and the calm overgrown ruins, and I would happily have spent longer there, but to complete my itinerary meant moving on: I wanted to see Sidi Bou Said, reportedly one of the prettiest towns in Tunisia, before I had to go and catch a train into Tunis.

Continuing along the road, past a rather sour-faced farmer staring at me from his tractor, and along the Boulevard d’Environment which ironically smelled of car smog and sewage, I gingerly went under a pavement-less railway bridge and reached the road up to Sidi Bou Said. To the north of Carthage, Sidi Bou Said has its own long history. It grew out of a previous village, growing in size around the grave of the thirteenth century Sufi Muslim saint Abu Said ibn Khalef ibn Yahia Al-Tamimi Al-Baji, the first part of whose name gives the town its name – it was reportedly previously called Jabal el-Menar, approximately “The Fire Mountain” from the lighthouse beacon once lit atop its main hill. In the early twentieth century the French baron, painter and musicologist Rodolphe d'Erlanger was instrumental in turning the town into an idealised Mediterranean settlement with characteristic, picturesque blue and white houses, making it an increasingly up-market home for artists and artisans that inspired a range of writers and painters. The modern town still retains the blue and white style, like Carthage a key tourism destination and home to many better off Tunisians.

Sidi Bou Said's classic white and blue buildings.
The main road that cuts through the town can make the approach on foot seem a little underwhelming, but if one takes the smaller foot roads uphill from it there are nicer streets with pretty tourist shops and orange trees, and the wooded slopes between the town centre and the sea I am sure are nice on the right sort of day, though I did not have the time to explore them. I had a friendly enough chat with a shopkeeper – the town is well prepared for the tourist market – and then looped around a few more of the buildings. It was perhaps a stretch further than I had quite had the energy for, and I lacked the time to look into any of the town’s museums or wander the streets more. Too tired to endure the demanding calls of different restaurant owners once back in the town centre, I ducked into a supermarket instead and bought a punnet of strawberries and some of what the shelf claimed should have been olive bread, but which contained no olives whatsoever – I was glad enough to have food that I didn’t care overmuch.

Starting on my way back, I stopped to eat my food at the last notable ancient ruin on my list, the basilica of St Cyprian. There’s not much to be seen, but the site does give an impressive clifftop view out to sea, and was mainly being frequented by groups of younger locals, seemingly a popular meetup and selfie-taking spot. There were few if any birds around, and tall trees on either side of the ruin shaded the area over: I sat on the stump of a column and ate my lunch, looking out to where some half-built hotel stood, perhaps an active construction site but equally plausibly an abandoned one: whilst Carthage and Sidi Bou Said remain prosperous, there is a sense that parts are in a state of tourist boom deflation, never having quite returned to the tourist trade they had before the Tunisian Revolution of 2010-11.

I headed back the way I had come until I reached the studio, and checked out, heading. With some of Carthage’s stations closed I ended up walking some way before I found a working station, and nearly left my phone at the ticket desk. I’d advise first class tickets for the TGM line. My second class ticket was very cheap, which was good, but also involved a level of packing and heat I’ve only previously encountered on tube trains, for a rather long journey, in a much ricketier carriage. A group of student-age Tunisians standing near me ended up having to form something of a protective ring around one of their own who, exhausted by the packed heat, had to sit on the floor. Carthage receded into the distance somewhere behind.

A packed Tunis street - a different world.
When I staggered out into Tunis itself, I was in a different world of tall buildings, traffic jams, and people as far as the eye could see. Market stalls full of flowers lined the road near the station, and I headed past them, crossing busy roads with absolutely no pedestrian affordances – crossing roads in some places in Tunisia seems to be an art more than a science, a process that relies on one becoming one with the flow of the traffic and more than a little reminiscent of the scene in The End of the World where the ninth doctor, eyes, closed, calmly walks through a fast-rotating fan blade and somehow emerges unscathed. Dust-covered and tired, I passed the major roads thus and then carefully navigated my way through the streets, rain starting to spit down at me, until I reached the Diplomat Hotel, where I couldn’t help feel that the staff might not have been expecting the raggedly stubbly poncho-wearing creature that stumbled through their door. I realised a few hours later that I had probably been expected to tip the porter, but due to a mix of exhaustion having more or less never stayed in hotels with porters it slipped my mind.

Once I had bathed and found my colleagues for food, the rest of the trip was mostly smooth: the seminar on Digital Humanities teaching I had come for was interesting, the company was good, the dinner excellent (and very sizeable), while the hour-late taxi back to the airport was hair-raising but got me there in just enough time all the same. I had a rather shaking experience at the airport itself when some security men between passport control and security pulled me to one side and started repeatedly asking me how many dollars I had on me – once I’d told them a few times that I had about five euros in small change, they let me keep going, but it was a rather confusing interaction and, whilst I’d like to think otherwise, I haven’t currently got a better explanation than that they were trying to obtain some additional money on the side somehow, so this may be something other lone travellers should watch out for.

And then we were heading up and back along the cloud-roads, and Carthage sank back beneath the clouds and into back into history memory – new memories mixing with the old, new histories mixing with half-remembered pasts. Carthage and the way its stories and buildings have come down to us are complex, difficult, full of past bloodshed and politics, fleets and Empires and unfulfilled ambitions. They are, in short, every bit as real as the columns I walked between and the bulbuls and serins and shrikes that watched over them, and they deserve consideration as such. That will not stop us mythologizing them, of course, as humans always do: but perhaps our understanding of realities will let us tell different stories tomorrow from the ones we tell today, ones that let us come to closer terms with those who lay beyond the narrow confines of the grand narratives we build about where our world has come from. May imaginings of Roman salt be thus, forever, wasted.

Issue 37: Spring 2020


Dear reader, this issue has been delayed, as so many things are at the moment. For once, I don't have to start worrying about whether I should have been geographically stipulating more when I say that we are living through events unprecedented in all of our lifetimes. That is at least unless we have any centenarian readers born prior to the post World War One Spanish Flu epidemic - if we do, hi, congratulations on surviving an awfully long time on a ball of rock confusedly flying around a giant gas ball, and please disregard the previous sentence. This is big, there's no doubt, and it's hard to say where things will end up.

There's really not much we can say about the world's situation that hasn't been said elsewhere and better by brighter, better people, but we'll say two things anyway. First, do the smart thing, follow relevant guidance, and look after yourself and those around you as best you can, please: we think you're all great and want you to stay healthy. Secondly, we're going to be right here for exactly what we're always here for, doing the same thing we do every night: plotting to take over the world providing you with awesome creative content, escapist geekery, and a friendly community. If you're feeling isolated, and a lot of people are during this time, please feel you can drop by our offtopic areas and chat about it, this community is here for you, dear reader, even if you just read these pages silently now and again. Thanks for sticking with us, and let us know if we can help.

Around the site, we're now twelve years old and heading on strong into the third decade we've existed in. We'd like to take this opportunity to draw forum users' attention to a clarificatory update to our Terms of Service. which we've amended to make clearer our obligations regarding posted material. The update mainly makes it clear the circumstances in which we might for practical reasons end up retaining copies of posts that are removed (for example in backups), and sets better limits for what we can reasonably ask our volunteer staff to do for users in this regard. You can see the Terms of Service here.

We've got some great projects for you this time - we couldn't even fit everything in, amid a ton of great creative stuff going on, and we're really excited to see what some of these projects will be looking like in a few months from now. This issue of Updates from the Forge includes space roguelikes, Roman warfare, mysterious meetings in taverns, a very oblique Monty Python reference and cheese on toast. What more could you ask for, dearest reader?

And with that ramble over - it's Updates O' Clock!


  • Editorial
  • Game Development
    • For The Warp!
    • Illyria Reborn in Rome: Total War
    • Beer, Buffs and Berberis in Tourney
    • Rome Total War: Vanilla Extended V16
    • Duels and Hunts in the Exile Princes
  • Writing & Arts
    • Three Coins and Seven Stones: Tales from Norbayne
    • Exilian Chainwriting Launched
    • The tales of the Ytrair
  • Miscellany
    • The Jolly Boar Kitchen reopens


For The Warp!

A new release in our game dev section, For the Warp is a roguelike/deck-building game that sees you pilot your ship through five star systems of increasingly challenging enemies as you attempt to fight your way through to the warp gates and make it home rich. Along the way you can pick up distress calls, search ruined space-temples, and collect abilities ranging from launching drone fleets to ship-disabling pulses to powerful plasma burn weapons. Conserving precious resources like fuel and avoiding ship damage which is hard to repair are both important imperatives for you on your voyage.

This is the first released game from Massive Galaxy Studios, and it's really excellent fun. Whether you're going to play the long game and rely on high powered shielding and grinding your enemies down, or whether you're going to go in with the biggest guns you can find blazing, whether you're going to go for a self-repairing ship or yet more engine boosters to keep your weapons charged and ready, your journey to the next warp gate awaits!

Illyria Reborn in Rome: Total War

We've had a great run of project announcements from the RTW modders lately, including this new released mod by Korsakoff, Illyria Reborn. It restores the planned Illyria faction that was going to be in the original RTW game, replacing Parthia and using the original planned assets many of which were included with the game and which would eventually become part of Thrace in RTW's release version, including the blue and teal colour scheme and serpent banner. Meanwhile Thrace return to their original planned yellow and black colour scheme, and the Seleucids are a far more notable starting power with their ability to build up strength further east at the start of the game.

Beer, Buffs and Berberis in Tourney

Hear ye hear ye! Travel to ye Tourney in style!

Tourney, made by our very own Tusky, is a jousing game in which you geto to build up a jousting arena with its surrounding tents, food sellers, peasant onlookers, and so on, and then hold mighty jousts, including training knights and a whole host of mechanics to feed, water, and just plain get on the nerves of the various knightly contestants.

Recent updates to the tournament ground have included the lovely wagon above, which brings spectators to your tournament ground, the important introduction of toilets and the response to something that some mysterious knights in a forest apparently demanded of the developer. Meanwhile on the gameplay side, work has been done on the training menu, where you can spend achievements to unlock various titles for your knight and give them small resulting buffs. The beer cart and hog roast wagons have also had their menu, uh, menus improved, so you can tweak the beer and fat content for amusing effects on knights and onlookers alike. You can check out Tusky's regular progress at his Exilian thread - do go have a look.

Rome Total War: Vanilla Extended V16

Sweeping in with his dramatic retinue of... one librarian? That said, never underestimate a librarian.

Ahowl11's Vanilla Extended mod version 16 has been released! One of the biggest Rome: Total War modding projects ongoing in recent years, Vanilla Extended keeps the general look and feel of classic Rome: Total War whilst packing in tons more diversity of units, gameplay options, and other possibilities. Ahowl is one of the longest-running RTW modders around, with huge experience from working on projects like Rome: Total Realism, and his commitment to making awesome RTW content continues to provide much awesome fun for fans.

In this release, changes include tweaks to the Martial Law building that make it function as intended, so that keeping it for too long will be economically damaging and the AI doesn't misuse it badly. Rather than having Area of Recruitment, this release also includes faction-specific mercenary pools, allowing more diversity of mercenary options without the Area of Recruitment issue of ending up with the Greeks suddenly fielding armies of Gauls or vice versa. New features have also been brought in from Rome: Total Realism 5.4, including a significant change to Egypt's unit tree, allowing them to recruit more vanilla-style Egyptian peasantry and low tier units in many areas whilst still maintaining their hellenic elites and pikemen, better modelling the historic army of the Ptolemies.

Duels and Hunts in the Exile Princes

The emblems of the great houses...

Jubal's Exile Princes version beta 008 is now complete! In The Exile Princes, you move around a procedurally generated fantasy world exploring its quirks, cities, and characters, ultimately aiming to make your house ruler of all the cities in the Exile Lands. Start almost alone and build up a warband, ultimately rising to take control of cities and fight wars for supremacy, picking up companions, exploring mysterious tunnels, and finding strange and monstrous beasts along the way. With four factions to choose from - the houses of Scholars, the Phoenix, Generals, and the Dragon - each with its own unique playstyle, there's a huge range of ways to play and things to do.

Additions in 008 include new quests for lords that will see you asked to fight duels to settle scores and hunt rare beasts like giant albino kinklades to retrieve rare trophies. Many of the newer quests are only given by lords with certain character traits, so the ruler's personalities are increasingly being reflected in gameplay. You now also need to wait a while to build siege weapons before assaulting a city - this slows down later game combat and makes it more of a risk to go to war, as you'll be bogged down for far longer and your own cities may be exposed to attack. Your character's resilience stat is now upgraded separately to your defence as well, making the way you build your character more flexible.

Copies of the beta are available on request in the subforum - please do come and join the testing group, the more feedback the merrier!


Three Coins and Seven Stones: Tales from Norbayne

We've been brought a huge new series of tales from Phoenixguards' RPG and setting Norbayne, via the playing logs of his campaigns. Written in epic-level scale and depth, with both blow by blow renditions of the gameplay and , the logs will be of particular interest to GMs but are a good fun playthrough story for fantasy readers of all kinds too. A classic fantasy setting but with many twists and turns to it, Norbayne sees humans rub shoulders with the sapient marsupial Leathe, elf-like but brutal Danaan, and other strange peoples besides.

Sunrock, capital of Benden.

In Three Coins, Two Birds, and a Gilded Sword, a warrior named Harold Oakenshield is elected leader of a rag-tag band comprising a light-footed leathe assassin and two brutal danaan, a mage and a ranger. Can this party, and the additional friends they pick up on the way, map the twists and turns of the intrigues of the border town of Summer Hill, between Elspeth and Naille? And if they do, where will the results of this border conflict ultimately lead them?

Meanwhile, in the new adventure, Seven Stones and a Pale Shadow, a mysterious voice leads a rugged northern mercenary, Michael, from his long journey into the unusual company of a leathe called Ailbhe Blackrose in the town of Stonebridge. Their jarring meeting - unexpected by either of them, is cut short as they interrupt a local gang shaking someone down for some coin. But what has brought them together? And who are the mysterious Black Hand who the local gang seem to be working for?

Find out the answers to these, and more, boozier and gruesomer questions besides, in Phoenixguard's epic campaign stories here on Exilian:

Exilian Chainwriting Launched

“I think it’s time to give up on the air breathing octopuses. We’ve run twenty nine emulations now, and the best one only lasted less than 40 gigaseconds.  We need to go back and look at the bears again.”

Sergei shook his head in frustration. “Environmental collapse every time with the bears. Twenty runs, and they all ended the same way. Overfishing, overeating. You can’t build a decent civilization with a species that hibernates. It has to be octopuses. They are intelligent, they have fine motor skills and mainpulative ability. Just get them out of the water so they can learn metallurgy. Let’s try one more time.”
In one of our previous chain writing stories, two characters consider their next plot twist.

Exilian is doing a new chain writing project! Those taking part will write 250 words each in a chain of 8 or 9 people. They don't know who else is in the chain or get to communicate with them - they just have to write With a range of different chains and themes, we'll be producing some great stories for you which will be available and published in five or six weeks' time. With participants from a huge range of backgrounds and countries, we hope you're every bit as excited as we are to see what awesome ideas everyone comes up with.

Our last project, in 2018, created three great stories - Last of a Kind, in which a terrifying plot to wipe out a whole species may be being orchestrated by forces unexpected to those involved, Of Storms and Silence, in which a weary traveller must protect their comrades from horrifying monsters, and The Divine and the Feline, in which the age-old arguments of Greek deities intertwine with the life of a housecat in unexpected ways. You can read those here.

We still haave a few writing slots available, so if you want to get in touch and join in you can do so until midnight, next Sunday, April 12th.

The tales of the Ytrair

"And if there are things here unsaid, it is because they have been lost to the fast-flowing river, time, that pulls us all toward the open water."

A new creative writing piece by Jubal, Tales of the Ytrair is a story loosely based upon a playthrough his modified version of Civilisation II, War of Realms. Following the Ytrair people from their nomadic beginnings to the birth of the Republic, a writer called Syesh carefully documents the recieved wisdom of his people about the trials of their past. The piece is written in the style of a medieval chronicle, and goes not only into the usual campaign log details of an AAR but the imagined heroes, kings, and ideas of the Ytrair, how they saw the other peoples of their world, and the tales of great explorers among them who discovered far off lands... read on to discover more of this unique little creation!


The Jolly Boar Kitchen reopens

Come and chat about it, even if it's just cheese on toast. No wait, especially if it's cheese on toast.

Many more of us are stuck at home than usual, and one of the things we can still all enjoy in trying times is food. But as it's harder to eat communally and more cooking may be needed, now seemed like a great time for us to re-open a previously mothballed part of the site - the Jolly Boar Kitchen, Exilian's food discussion forum! Head into the Kitchen to post recipes, discuss what you're eating, ask for advice on how to use up your ingredients, and pick up ideas for what to eat. Whether you're cake-making, cress growing, or just having some good ol' cheese on toast, the Jolly Boar Kitchen awaits. Come along, pull up a chair, get a drink of your choice and have a chat:

As usual, please leave your feedback in the comments, and if you can think of any ideas to improve these columns, do let us know. Hopefully by the summer issue things will have turned around, and we won't need to worry so much about Fox Box goblins stealing our loo roll. But until then, give us a shout if we can help out, take care of yourselves - and we'll see you next time.

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