An Etruscan Dodecahedron

Cúarapom – A Lost Dice Game

Note: This post is a piece of indirect world building. The post itself is about a fictional ancestor to Yahtzee from 3rd century Rome. The world building touches on ancient Roman-Chinese trade, the rise of Esperanto, and historical records. Cúarapom is pronounced (Quar-a-pom, not the way I keep saying it, Quare-uh-pom)

History of Cúarapom and It's Language, Arcaicam Esperantom.

Flavio Biondo

Scholars had long believed that Flavio Biondo, 15th century historian, had a lost work that detailed Roman history from the time of the Etruscans to 410 AD as a prequel to his famous history, Historiarum ab inclinatione Romanorum imperii decades. Notes from his posthumous publisher hinted at note of pre-Roman times, but nothing conclusive.

Churchill Babington's Personal Effects

In 1865, Churchill Babington published An Introductory Lecture on Archaeology that points to a paper written in his early career about the Preists of Nortia. In this paper, he mentioned the famous fertility rite, but also attributes the Goddess of Fate with a relic of a dodecahedron discovery in the 1830s near the Palatine Hills. Quoting an unknown work of Biondo, he describes the twelve-sided object as a divination device for Nortian priests.

Amongst his effects after Babington's death was a manuscript of Biondo's lost work that detailed Etruscan and Roman history. This work features many pieces of works thought to be lost to antiquity, including a passage written by Livy that details the dodecahedron, its symbols, and the possible meaning of the results. Livy also mentioned that there were, in fact, four dodecahedrons, each with their own symbols. Babington appeared to have no small fascination with these objects producing a reconstruction based on citations from Livy.

Connections to Arcaicam Esperantom

Another discovery near Shenyang in the 1870s produced missing pieces of Wei lio, a 3rd century document that describes relations between Rome and China written by Yu Huan. Babington had a translated copy, but many discredit this translation as wildly inaccurate and prone historical errors. (The original document has been authenticated and current English translations have corrected these issues.)

The new manuscript describes the relationship of Lieou Tche-ki to a Roman he names Feng-Ti, "Crazy Western Barbarian". As a part of their business relationship, Feng-Ti attempts to invent a trading language to assist his men in understanding the cargo they are transporting. It even includes some of the vocabulary and grammar that clearly demonstrates Latin and Chinese root words modified by affixes.

It appears that Lieou Tche-ki rejected this idea, but entertained it enough to humor his trading partner. Over the course of his musings, he mentions a pastime of the sailors that he writes as Cuarapom, using the trading language.

Arcaicam Esperantom

After L.L. Zamenhof published Unua Libro 1887, devotees called for numerous changes to Esperanto. Zamenhoff continued to refine Esperanto by translating other works, especially poetry. This changed when he heard of the new additions to Wei lio and their publication in English. Friends had mentioned the passage describing Feng Ti's trading language and acquired a copy to study.

His goal was to recreate a language that he saw as an ancestor to Esperanto. With this ancestor language, he would then attempt to evolve it in much the same way that Romance languages evolved from Latin. This would address a frequent criticism that Esperanto had no history and felt contrived.

In 1893, he produced a manuscript for Arcaicam Esperantom, but never published it. It is believed that the attempt to create this ancestor languge was the main cause in the rejection of 1894 update to Esperanto. His 1904 changes removed many of the inventions seen in his 1894 draft.

Cúarapom's Survival

A curious exception to the rejection of Zamenhof's 1894 version of Esperanto, was the inclusion of a game he named Kvarapo, a curious game of Four-of-a-Kind. He also mentions the game by a different name, Cúarapom, apparently pointing to the so-called ancestor of Esperanto. The odd dodecahedrons described in the game were produced and the game was briefly popular in Europe.

This popularity led to uncovering the Arcaicam Esperatom manuscript featuring the full set of rules written in that language. Zamenhoff's notes made it clear that he kept all of the words of the original game described in Wei lio, but added the names of certain results and filled in missing pieces in the game itself that he discovered through playing it.

When the game was published in 1901, it was published in English and Arcaicam Esperatom along with a modified version of the history calling it "The Game of Roman Sailors". The game became popular and was enjoyed on both sides of the Atlantic.

With the advent of World War I, the game lost popularity due to the issues in manufacturing the dice. After World War II a similar game named Yacht grew in popularity and in 1956 a version of it named Yahtzee was published by Milton Bradley.

Cúarapom's Revival

In recent years, I've become interested in Cúarapom. I hope to make the dice, but I get by with a d6 numbered 1 to 3, a d4, a d6, and a d12. In the meantime, I have created score sheets and cleaned up an older version of the English rules. (There will be edits.)

I kept a few of the original names of results, but it felt like too much mental overhead to use them all. That's why Three of a Kind is in English instead of the original term, Triapom. Sinsecúom for a straight felt like a big stretch when there are already other vocabulary words. I hope I found the right balance.

In playing the game, I've found that it is difficult to score in the lower section. Most games are won by the strategic use of the upper section and the two categories that are similar to Chance in Yahtzee. It is extremely difficult to score the Pluy Gravam and attempts to roll it, even with a 4th Roll token have proven unsuccessful.

Let me know what you think.

Classifier Magic

Tanah Con-Rahn is an idea for a campaign idea with Southeastern Asia flavor. It is centered around a couple ideas, mainly a tweaked magic system that redefines schools of magic. If you want to skip the explanation of how this idea formed, skip down to the section on Classifier Magic.

As previously mentioned, I enjoy making up my own languages. The vast majority of them are naming languages. This means that no real grammar is ever invented, just a list of words that allows the user to name things. This works well for Latin-sounding town names or Sanskrit-like character names.

Sometimes, though, slogging through a constructed languages provides an opportunity to tweak major rule systems. Today's exercise was starting with the fundamental wordlist from lojban (they call it gismu) to create a funadmental wordlist using Indonesian,Hindi,Vietnamese,Filipino and Bengali sources. Since I have a couple Indonesian study books that teach grammar, I also decided to give the language an Indonesian grammar.

Indonesian grammar has a lot of interesting features, not the least of which is a classifier system. English only has a few, but the most common one is the word head. In English we say two bowls of rice and four head of lettuce, as opposed to saying two rices and four lettuces. The words head and bowl function as a classifier. Indonesian has several and are required. The list I have is:

orang - humans (which I extend out to sentient races)
ékor - animals
buah - large things (e.g. houses, ships, mountains) and fruit and abstract nouns
batang - long cylindrical objects like cigars, trees, spears and sticks
tangkai - flowers
helai - flat,thin objects like cloth or paper
bidang - used for grounds, fields and gardens
butir - grains, seeds and anything that resembles small round objects (e.g. pearls,gems,eggs)
bilah - bladed objects (e.g. knives, axes, swords)
pucuk - used for sharp, pointed things like nails as well as rifles. Scrolls are included here because they are rolled up and resemble rifle barrels.
utas - long and soft things like threads and cords
kerat - things that can be easily broken, torn or cut like meat and bread.

Looking at this list, it occurred to me that these classifiers could be used to determine or modify the magical effect of a spell. This led to the framework for Classifier Magic.

Classifier Magic

Classifier magic does away with the traditional school groupings of spells. It also removes the opposition school rules. In its place are a list of spells assigned at least one classifier and possibly up to eight. With training, a Wizard gains access to a new classifier at every odd level, up to a maximum of ten classifiers at level 19.

For each spell with more than one classifier, each classifier modifies the effect of the spell. Scroll up to see a short list of classifiers and their explanations. For example, let's say that magic missle belongs to two classifiers, batang (cylindrical object) and tangkai (flower).

Magic Missile (Batang)

Range: 60 yds. + 10 yds./level
Components: V, S
Duration: Instantaneous
Casting Time: 1
Area of Effect: 1-5 targets
Saving Throw: None

A missile of magical energy will appear from the wizard's fingertip and unerringly strike their target. The missile strikes unerringly, even if the target is in melee combat or has less than total concealment. Specific parts of a creature can’t be singled out. Inanimate objects are not damaged by the spell. Likewise, the caster must be able to identify the target. He cannot direct a magic missile to "Strike the commander of the legion," unless he can single out the commander from the rest of the soldiers. Specific parts of a creature cannot be singled out.  Against creatures, each missile inflicts 1d4+1 points of damage.

For every two extra levels of experience, the wizard gains an additional missile--he has two at 3rd level, three at 5th level, four at 7th level, etc., up to a total of five missiles at 9th level. If the wizard has multiple missile capability, he can have them strike a single target creature or several creatures, as desired.

Magic Missile (Tangkai)

Range: 15'
Components: V, S
Duration: Instantaneous
Casting Time: 1
Area of Effect: One 10'-radius circle
Saving Throw: Negates

When this spell is cast upon a nonmagical fire (such as a campfire, lantern, or candle), it causes the fire to flash and shoot arrows of flame. All creatures within 10 feet of the fire source suffer 1 point of damage per level of the caster (up to 6  points). Victims who roll a saving throw successfully suffer no damage.

A 1st level Mage chooses the batang classifier to determine the effect of the spells learned. Upon learning magic missle, he/she is able to cast the magic missile batang spell only. At 3rd level, let's say that the Mage takes the tangkai classifier. Without having to learn a new spell, the Mage can now also cast the magic missle tangkai spell.

As far as magical research, Mages researching a spell they currently have using a different classifier have the costs or time cut in half. In this case, "different classifier" means a spell and classifier combination that doesn't currently exist. For example, let's say that a Mage with the Magic Missile spell and the helai classifier wishes to research a version of Magic Missile using the helai classifier. The would be a new spell *not* automatically granted because there is no definition for the Magic Missile spell with this modifier. Such as spell would need to have the effects of a first level spell, but research costs would otherwise require half the time or half the money, but not both. An acceptable spell could be:

Magic Missile (Helai)

Range: 0
Components: V, S
Duration: 1 round/level
Casting Time: 1
Area of Effect: One whip
Saving Throw: None

When this spell is cast upon a non-magical whip, it causes the whip to do 1d6 points of damage. Creatures that take increased damage from fire will also take increased damage from the whip. When the spell ends, the whip will become a normal whip suffering no ill effects from the spell.

Useful as a DM Tool

Maybe the classifier system feels like too much work. I can understand that, it would require the entire spell list to be reworked as base spell + classifier. To save time, I will eventually post all the LL spells reworked in such a manner.

Still, it can also be useful as a way of creating new spells for players and NPCs. Taking the Wall of Fog spell, you could add the tangkai classifier to make a spell that is similar to a smoke bomb or add the kerat classifier to make a small object composed of super-dense fog. It won't work for all spells (like Feather Fall), but it opens up some new possibilities.