Author Topic: Developers' Notes: Surval  (Read 1191 times)


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Developers' Notes: Surval
« on: August 20, 2017, 11:56:34 PM »
Surval: Dev Notes

Surval was the faction I was least happy with in the original Narnia: Total War, and that unease grew if anything over time - indeed it's one of the things that motivated me to go back and make some tweaks to the mod. The problem, put simply, is that Surval didn't feel coherent as a culture. It was a very 19th century adventure story style idea of a "tribal culture" - literally, the original description for it used the word tribal about four times in three sentences. The body-painted, fierce jungle warriors that were conjured up for it felt strangely shallow compared to what I'd done with the other cultures. Erin's mercantile tribal confederacy on the fringes of a great empire, or Munesh's strangely constitutional religious townships, seemed to have a logic that fitted in with the world around them, whereas Surval felt two-dimensional by contrast, a strange blurred mishmash of the pop-culture highlights of west Africa, southern Africa, and the Caribbean world. As such, it was time to change it.

I didn't want to ditch Surval altogether: indeed I wanted it to mirror Narnia itself rather more, in the sense of showing a culture in harmony with its natural environment and living alongside the landscape, rather than either shifting too sharply to a "naturalist" approach that failed to distinguish between people and landscape or shifting on the other hand to imposing the more city-centric cultures of Calormen or Munesh onto the region. As such, I made the decision to drag Surval down toward a single real-world culture to help build some coherence. The obvious choice, in line with the equipment style of Surval's troops (which would've been almost impossible to change), was the culture of the Zulu people. I'd already rather ignorantly used the term "impi" for some of the Surval warriors - but now it felt like time to do the research and make something that felt considerably more coherent. I'm not sure that what I've ended up with is anywhere near good let alone perfect, but it certainly feels like a much more coherent cultural representation than it used to. It's of course not meant to be entirely "accurate" - it's still very explicitly a fantasy, but with a more specific and hopefully more effective invocation of place involved. Hopefully rather than, as I increasingly felt was previously the case, just concocting a shambling parody of a culture as contrast to its neighbours, it feels like introducing an actual new culture to the (of course flawed) magic of Narnia.

The Background

Rather than "tribes" or defaulting to the eurocentric king/kingdom model, Surval now uses the Zulu term "umbuso" for its existence as a political unit and "inkosi" for its leaders. Inkosi seems to be normally translated as "king" into English, and of course the modern Zulu culture and terminologies are heavily influenced by colonial-era British and Dutch settlement and tensions (the word "chief" is according to some things I've read deprecated in modern Zulu culture as a result of its heavy and regularised use by colonial authorities). It's worth remembering that the Zulu culture reflected in Surval is that formed and welded together from the end of the eighteenth century onwards (making it arguably anachronistic, as I discuss a bit regarding troop types). I've basically purged "tribal" as an adjective, and renamed several units to better reflect more specific organisational principles: an Impi, for example, is properly speaking literally any body of armed men, and the groups of C19th Zulu warriors often referred to as an Impi may have been better referred to as a formal regiment or "Ibutho". I've reflected this distinction such that the basic levied troops are referred to as an impi, with "Ibutho" referring to the tougher, more disciplined regularised units.

In terms of mythology, the idea of ancestor spirits is strong within Zulu society to this day, with communication being shared between a Sangoma (diviner) who makes the contact, and an Inyanga (herbalist) whose creations can cause the spirits to do certain things for good or ill. This core two-part principle is now written into Surval's attitudes to magic; the unit formerly called "Zloranti" are now reinvented as "Cursed Ones" who have been influenced by particular herbal potions and are controlled by a Sangoma on the battlefield. I've been toying with the idea of adding centaurs to Surval, and I may yet do so, though I'm not sure they'd add much and I don't want to balance the forces too far towards cavalry-type units. Unfortunately I've been able to find relatively little about actual Zulu mythical beasts, though there are gremlin-type beings called "Tikoloshe" which might provide a possible unit type.

Of course, the other major area to change was names: the Surval characters all now have Zulu names rather than proto-Armenian ones as was the case in the old version!

The Landscape

Surval, despite the rhetoric of it being "deep jungle" was a very flat plains region on the old campaign map with occasional trees. The new landscape is considerably more rugged: the core starting province centres around a long river valley that cuts through the surrounding hills and westward to the sea. Rather than Surval simply being some strange infested forest, it is now more clearly somewhat geographically isolated, giving a much more natural gap of hills and badlands between it and Munesh to the north, and with each of its provinces varying between river valleys and higher hill country. I haven't renamed the cities on the assumption that everywhere in Narnia probably has Narnicised (aka Anglicised) name versions anyway and I'd need to do a lot of rethinking to sort that out for the whole map.

Troops & Visuals

In some ways the visuals for Surval haven't changed too much - but I think the ways they have done are important. One unit is gone from the roster - the head hurlers, who can still be found as a rebel unit in one mountain region but I felt didn't fit with the more realistic, communitarian culture I was building for Surval. The white "tribal paint" was the other main thing to go since I wanted to move away from the "horde of tribal warriors" awkwardness. Differences between units are now being marked out more by their equipment and the choice of eg furs worn around the belt. The basic spear-armed, large shielded troops are still the backbone of the army, with spear-throwing hunters, light cavalry on tamed zebras, and elephant riders as flanking and support units. There's also the unusual "cursed ones" unit which is more my own invention (and which I'm not sure fits the new developments for the army that well, but I'm keeping it for now).

One decision I did make was to give the Impi and Ibutho a sort of basic woven armour across the torso - this is as far as I know inaccurate for modern era Zulu warriors, but of course it would have made no sense to develop a potentially cumbersome defence against slashing/stabbing attacks when one's main enemies were using guns. This phenomenon is documented in North America, where the classic half-naked image we have of native American warriors was actually in part an adaptation to facing firearms, ditching cumbersome traditional armours and focusing on being able to move more easily and drop to the ground fast if necessary. As such, in the firearm-free world of Narnia I think it's reasonable that our basic troops may have developed some light armour to use.

Of course there was also the question of what to keep. I decided that the zebra-based cavalry and elephants were too iconic to lose, though both units were renamed - the zebra riders, with the same light armour as the impi infantry, now simply have the word for "zebra" appended to become "idube-impi", whereas the elephant is likewise given the language appropriate name of indlovu. The elite riders are now guards, or "onogada". I am very aware that I've probably been super inconsistent with singulars and plurals, especially since Zulu does its plurals by amending the front of the word (the plural of inkosi is amakhosi for example, and that of ibutho is amabutho), but hopefully the meanings and feeling of the terms is clear enough. The elephant has also had a graphical update - the throw on its back has been given a colourful Zulu textile pattern, which I'd like to think links the communities of village and township from which these people have come a bit more closely with the troops we see on the battlefield. I think the mounted units do help bring some diversity into the army tactically and I hope their redesign brings them more into theme with the army as a while.
« Last Edit: August 21, 2017, 10:40:13 AM by Jubal »
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