Friday, April 3, 2015

Content Constitution: Expanding Our News-based setting

Yesterday's post discussed creating a basic campaign setting based on a current conflict.  In this case, we are using the current conflict in Yemen.  But, yesterday's post only took materials from a single news article.  But, my research turned up so much more.  Therefore, it's time to expand!

First, a brief recap about the Kingdom of Menas...

Regions/Peoples:
Hadria/Hadran, The dwarven people that live within the mountains in the northwest of the country, also where its capital is located.  They are rebelling against their political leadership, King Rodrick.
Coastal cities/Aden/Coastal peoples, The people that live along the country's southern and eastern coasts.  Rodrick I was one of their leaders under the previous king, whom Rodrick succeeded through...byzantine...circumstances.  Very maritime mercantile.
Eastern Steppes: Home of nomadic tribes that birthed Rodrick I's predecessor, Sonthuk XII, who conquered the coastal cities and Hadria, establishing a mini-Empire.
Andarans: Former occupants of Menas with access to fantastic magic.  All or mostly gone now.  Have left ruins.

Neighbors:
Nulkavit, a large Empire to the north with a powerful standing army and a history of interfering in Menas' internal political affairs.  Nominally aligned with the coastal mercantile interests in Menas.
Barnan, a maritime power, generally opposed to Nulkavit and the only nation that officially endorses a heretical religious/political view that holds the Nulkavii royalty have actually usurped [insert deity's name here]'s plan for ruling the region in a religious manner.  Nominally aligned with the northern rebellion and the tribes in Menas' Eastern steppe/desert/badlands.


Now, let's incorporate a new source: CriticalThreats.org.  This site is administered by the American Enterprise Institute (whose views this site does not endorse).  For Yemen, it has a regularly updated blow-by-blow analysis of what the situation on the ground is.  Each report begins with a large infographic as well as updates on other developments in the country.  I've chosen March 27, 2015 as the day I like.  Why have I made this choice?  Because that's when the situation reports start saying that President Hadi (Rodrick I) had fled Aden for Saudi Arabia.  As with yesterday's NPR report, let's draw some more information directly from the source.
Saudi Arabia and allied forces undertake air operations against al Houthis and may begin ground invasion in Yemen. Egyptian military and security officials stated on March 26 that Saudi Arabian and Egyptian forces would undertake a ground invasion in Yemen, although a Saudi Arabian military spokesman later said ground operations would only commence if needed. Fighter jets from Saudi Arabia and Arab allies bombed Yemen’s capital, Sana’a, on March 26. Targets included al Daylami Air Force Base  in Sana’a city and a military camp in the south of the city that is reportedly home to troops loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh. There are rumors that three top al Houthi military commanders, Abdul Khaliq al Houthi, Yusuf al Madani, and Yusuf al Fishi, were killed
The Nulkavii are days away from launching a land invasion.  Perhaps troops are already massing on the border.  They might send elite units (PCs?) into Menas in an attempt to destablilize or stabilize matters.  Right now, I'm not interested in creating a third international player, so we can ignore Egypt.  But, it doesn't hurt to remember that we can have a body of water as thin as the Red Sea to the west of Menas if we want to.

The capital is clearly besieged, and there's a massing of  Hadran troops in a military camp inside the south of the city.  Let's file that away for when we think about what the state of play is inside the capital and within Aden.  For right now, we know that there's a large concentrated presence of Sunthuk's armed supporters in the southern part of the capital.  Since the news reports (and therefore our canon) differentiate Sonthuk's supporters from the Hadran, let's say that somewhere in the south of Donteen is a large encampment of nomadic warriors from Sonthuk's native eastern lands.  Finally, there are rumors that three major Hadran warlords have bitten the dust.  Are they?  We don't have to decide right now.  But, what is important to know is that the Hadran forces are split up rather than in a single large military unit.
Al Houthis vowed strong retaliation for Saudi airstrikes. Al Houthi leader Abdul Malik al Houthi condemned Saudi Arabian military operations in Yemen during a televised address on March 26. Abdul Malik accused Saudi Arabia of working in American and Israeli interests and called for a mobilization against Saudi Arabia. Al Houthi political leader Ali al Imad alleged that al Houthi fighters fired a missile into Saudi territory on March 26, although this report could not be independently verified. Another al Houthi political leader, Mohammed al Bukhaiti, stated that the Saudi intervention in Yemen will be the “end” of the Saudi regime.  It is unclear whether the al Houthis will undertake further attacks on Saudi territory. The al Houthis temporarily held positions inside Saudi Arabian territory during the 2009-2010 Sa’ada War.  Iran publicly condemned the Saudi Arabian military operations in Yemen, but it is unclear whether Iran will move additional assets to assist the al Houthis. Unverified reports state that Egyptian naval forces forced Iranian warships to retreat from the Bab al Mandeb straight, although this claim could not be verified. 
Wow!  This gives us a lot to work with.  Rather than following the order of the quoted paragraph above, let's try and make some narrative sense out of this.  First of all, during the former war that deposed Sunthuk and placed Rodrick I on the throne, the Hadran were restless and were occupying positions in southern Nulkavit.  That's a very good reason for the Nulkavii crown to be concerned about what happens in Menas.  If the violence spills over the border, Nulkavii subjects will quesetion their own leaders' ability to keep the peace within the empire.

I also like the idea that the Hadrans attacked Nulkavit territory.  One option is to decide that these were simple border raids.  But, I want the Hadrans (or at least one of their leaders) to be doing a little bit of double speak.  The Hadrans have unearthed a weapon located in an Andaran ruin.  They attempted to use it or maybe even just to test it and it went totally awry, discharging onto Nulkavii territory and killing a few country folk.  Depending on how strong and wild this weapon needs to be, it could have been unearthed near the border, transported near the border for testing, or unearthed far from the border (and therefore affecting and killing at a greater distance).  Unless we need survivors or the PCs will visit this area, we don't have to decide on the weapon's exact properties (or even if it was originally a weapon) at this time.

Of course, the Hadrans hold the Andarans in high regard that borders on worship.  Its questionable for this Hadran commander (perhaps one of the three that's now rumored to be dead--he's gone underground to do his research and no one has heard from him in weeks) to be unearthing Andaran ruins, much less putting holy relics to use as weapons of war.  Another Hadran commander (who may or may not be aware of our archaeologist commander's activities) has attempted to inflame the people on both sides of the Nulkavit-Menas border with talk of how the Nulkavii are messing with sacred matters and to their own detriment.

Finally, there are rumors that the Bardanians sent ships (to aid the Hadrans?  to attempt to sack some of the southern coastal cities? unclear) but were turned away.  This may or may not have happened.  We can decide later, but it's a great rumor for right now.
Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi fled Yemen as fighting continues between al Houthis and pro-Hadi forces in Aden. Hadi later arrived in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, on March 26. The al Houthis also seized al Mansoura and Sheikh Othman districts in northern Aden and captured Badr Military Camp on March 26. It appears, however, that forces loyal to Hadi made gains against al Houthis on March 27 and retook al Hawta, Lahij and al Anad Airbase, which al Houthis had seized two days prior. Pro-Hadi forces also regained control of Badr Military Camp and Aden International Airport on March 27.
This is the first time I'm going to make some changes.  Rodrick I hasn't fled from Aden, but he has fled to Aden.  He still has forces skirmishing on his behalf up north (an adventure might be to try and free the largest group up north from the morass so that they can rendezvous  with Rodrick's main forces in Aden or even rescue them).  He's pinned in at Aden right now by Hadran warbands.  There's fighting going on all over the countryside as warriors take and retake land from their enemies' gains.
Islamic State in Iraq and al Sham (ISIS) cells are beginning to emerge in Lahij and Aden, southern Yemen. Wilayat Sana’a, an ISIS-affiliated group responsible for the March 20 mosque bombings in Sana’a, revealed the names and histories of the militants who carried out the suicide attacks. At least three of the fighters came from Ibb in central Yemen, indicating the possible presence of an ISIS recruiting cell in the governorate. ISIS supporters in Lahij, calling themselves Wilayat Lahij, posted photos of slain fighters via Twitter on March 25. Pro-ISIS Twitter accounts also started distributing photos of graphic executions of al Houthi militants in Lahij and Aden on March 25 and 26. It is possible, though unclear, that some al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) militants defected to ISIS. AQAP’s media presence over the past week has been limited.

Let's not forget our religious secret societies.  It appears that the Scepter of the Kingfisher is making its presence known in Aden.  It's noted as having killed only Hadran forces, so we'll assume that the Scepter's goals include placing Rodrick I back in charge--at least for the moment.  Perhaps Rodrick I is secretly a member of their faith?  But, the Scepter forces appear to have a strong presence in the foothills of the mountains halfway between Aden and Donteen.  I've decided that the Scepter's secret training camp is there.  Most residents of that valley are members of the Scepter, but Scepter members from elsewhere in Menas are only invited after proving themselves in battle and advancing up the organization's hierarchy.

The Black Bolas of [insert deity's name here] appear to have gone quiet.  Some people believe that they've been subsumed into one of the other groups.  Maybe they have joined other groups, but they haven't been subsumed.  If they are infiltrating a group en mass, it's because they have plans for later.
U.S. intelligence files may have fallen into Iranian possession. The Los Angeles Times reported on March 25 that U.S. intelligence files detailing American operations in Yemen were looted by al Houthi militants in January and are believed to have been handed to Iranian advisors. The files reportedly had the identities of local intelligence sources operating in Yemen. The loss of the information to the al Houthis indicates the severity of the damage done to U.S. intelligence networks in Yemen.
Okay, there are a couple ways to spin this one.  If you are going with a recently-vanished or mostly-gone Andaran theory, then this is information about the secret society (as yet undefined) that allows the Andarans to operate throughout Menas undetected today.  Most members of the society aren't aware of who the Andarans are, but are supportive of whatever goal the Andarans have claimed to be furthering.  Only the most senior members of the society know the identities of its Andaran leaders and that they aren't humans at all.  The information was garnered by the Hadrans (perhaps the same one testing/mishapping with the weapon, perhaps another) but they lacked information to truly understand it.  Since Hadran lore respects the Andarans and (I've now decided) their religious belief shared with the Badrans is that the Nulkavit royalty stole their crown from rightful Andaran rulers, they have fed the information back to Badran.  Maybe this is why the Badrans recently were rumored to have sent ships towards Menas.

We've learned a LOT more about the region and the fighting.  I could go back and review a week or so of previous situation reports if I wanted more, but I'm pretty happy with what we've learned thus far.  Most of the statements are also sufficiently vague that they can be tailored into rumors to keep the PCs guessing.  Further, we are fleshing out the various cultures--Hadrans hero-worship the Andarans, for instance.  Who knows what comes next?!