I probably don’t have to tell you this, but the world is fucked up. I’ve used actual curse words only a few times during the history of this blog, but this is one of those places, where its completely justified. However, today I’m interested in the places that are specifically very fucked up in a way that you might want to use them for inspiration for your games.
These are not necessarily easy places and periods to use, but they would work very well for certain purposes, such as Fiasco playsets. Hopefully I’ve been able to find settings you wouldn’t necessarily have thought of, even though one of them is one of the most famous cities in the world.
What happens when you live in a prison colony and do a crime? You are sent to another prison colony. Just a lot worse one. Norfolk is an island east of Australia and it was pretty bad. And by pretty, I mean very. People would kill other people just to get themselves out of there, because they would be returned to mainland and hung there, which was seen as a better fate than living on that rock.
Crops often failed, rats were everywhere, lack of harbours meant getting supplies from the mainland was difficult and mainland was about 1500 kilometers away anyhow. Order was hard to keep and there were attempts to take over the island by the convicts. Despite this, some even stayed there to farm after they had served their sentence.
But that was the first colony. In the early 1800s, when a second colony was established about a decade after the last one was dismantled. There was an idea that this place needed to set an example to all the criminals out there, even if they couldn’t actually see what was going on there. Still, he worked the convicts in irons and the place was seen as one step below death sentence.
On top of that, there were food shortages and the food they did get was of poor quality. Housing was horrible. The convicts were often tortured for no particular reason. Of course, the overseers, who didn’t have any oversight on them because of the distance, were very corrupt.
All this lead to a munity, but when the mutiny was put down, the men sentenced to death as a result actually thanked their executioners for releaving them of their situation.
In the Venetian Lagoon, there’s a small island known as Poveglia. During its history, there have been several more or less horrible periods, which could very well serve as a basis for a Fiasco playset.
First, it was used back in 5th century as a safe haven when barbarians were running through Italy, raging against the Roman empire. However, the island was also used as a place to isolate plague victims. During those times, it was still a small endeavor as the island was otherwise populated as well, but during the early 14th century, the island was evacuated during wartime and was left empty.
Well, until late 18th century, a new use for the island was found. It became a checking point for all incoming sea traffic. One day, a couple plague victims were found in one of the ships, so the island became an impromptu guarantee zone. And that continued for over 20 years. By some estimates some 160.000 people dies on that small island from plague. Of course, with that kind of numbers, not everyone was actually sick. Everyone would be put there die with the smallest of excuses. Many of the bodies were burned, and apparently their bones are still often exposed by the waves.
This stopped in 1814 and the island laid empty for over a century before in 1922 it became an insane asylum. And as we’ve seen from a number of media sources, insane asylums in those days weren’t very enlightened. One doctor decided to cure insanity through lobotomies. His tools were pretty primitive and he would use whatever he had on hand, such as chisels and hammers. Of course, no anaesthesia was available. Also, on top of that, many of the actual patients were influenced by the history of the island and began to see ghosts of plague victims. This spread to the aforementioned doctor, who killed himself by throwing himself off a tower on the island, a remnant of a church from centuries past. According to a legend, he wasn’t actually killed by the fall, but instead was choked to death by a mist while laying on the ground after his jump (or fall, if you believe the ghosts also threw him down).
Yes, that New York.
There have always been plenty of immigrants to the US and throughout history, the place they would most often enter the country, was New York. So, certain areas throughout the city’s history were overcrowded by immigrants seeking cheap accommodations. The tenements were of poor quality and largely run by criminal gangs. No-one was interested in the infrastructure, so sewage wasn’t handled properly and disease was rampant.
Actually, this wasn’t nearly as bad as many of the other ones on this list, but here’s the thing: there was a very interesting photobook (quite an early one) called How the Other Half Lives which documents the conditions of Lower East Side of Manhattan around 1890. And its available on online, since the copyright has lapsed. You really should take a look.
Specifically the Paraguayn War of 1864-1870.
The geopolitical situation was quite bad. Paraguay was developing quickly, often at the expense of its neighboring Uruguay. Argentina and Brazil weren’t happy that Paraguay attempted to mitigate their control over it. So, they ended up in a war, where 70% of the adult male population of Paraguay died.
Yes, 70%. Of course there are different estimates that actually have a huge range, but still, the young country, the population of which at the time we don’t even know, because the Brazilians stole their archives, suffered huge losses. The population after the war was about 220.000. The estimates of the pre-war population range from 450.000 to double that, meaning that anywhere between 50 to 75% of the population died.
Well, its no surprise, when Brazil brought in a lot of troops. Some 160.000 troops served at one time or another during the war in the Brazilian army. They weren’t very well trained or organized, but their sheer numbers would have easily been enough to sink the much smaller country, which took decades to recover from the war. Well, how long does it take to bring up a whole new generation of men. Paraguay also lost a quarter of its land.
Of course, since very little is known about what actually happened, this might all be exaggerated, but that’s what I’m here for.
I’d like to say that the causes of the Triplice Alliance vs Paraguay were far more complex. Solano Lopez did not tried to “mitigate” Brazilian and Argentinian influence about Uruguay. He seeked a “Lebensraum” (let me use this f word) which would comprise Uruguay, two Argentinians provinces and two Brazilian provinces (present day Mato Grosso do Sul and Rio Grande do Sul) and invaded then.
Only Marxist historians portrait Solano Lopez as a hero, not as a bloody tyrant and wannabe conqueror, which is not that surprising. Their theory was developed, by the way, to oppose the Right-wing nationalist military government which ruled Brazil in 60s and 70s who highly pleased the war (which mostly created Brazilian modern army forces).
Today, both visions (heroic military vs. local tyrant and brave local leader vs. neighborhood thugs puppeted by foreign superpowers) are considered obsolete.
Thank you. My knowledge of the situation is admittedly limited and sources seemed to disagree in many ways, or were themselves admittedly quite speculative. Not that I even researched this very deeply.