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Alternate History: Bhotanta


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One of my projects is a series of "What If ?" settings that replace real world nations with fictio-

nal ones with a different history, society and culture.

For example, Asornok replaces the Nunavut region in the Middle Ages, Merasan replaces most

of the United Arab Emirates and San Ignacio replaces El Salvador in the classic Cthulhu period

around 1920, and now Bhotanta will replace Bhutan in the modern age.

I use a "BRP-enriched Call of Cthulhu system" for these settings, but otherwise try to keep them

as (pseudo-) historical as possible, so neither the Mythos nor its monsters appear in these set-

tings. The only exceptions are fantastical creatures that are a part of the folklore of the region,

so there may be Yetis in the remotest regions of Bhotanta.

While Bhotanta is mostly Bhutan "with the serial numbers filed off", I have changed the geogra-

phy somewhat, and also changed most of the names slightly, while trying to keep the "feel" of

the language. The government, economy, religion and culture will be modified according to the

country's new, different history, but these changes will not be radical - Bhotanta will remain a

Buddhist monarchy with a culture similar to that of Tibet.

I use these settings both as adventure locations for characters "from the West" and as opportu-

nities for the players to create and play native characters.

The adventures are usually connected to the fictional history of the setting, so in this case they

could have to do with the Chinese invasion of the neighbouring Tibet, with the war between In-

dia and China, with Indian rebels and terrorists hiding in the mountains of Bhotanta, with the

extremely difficult trade route from China through Bhotanta to India, and so on.

This is a first sketch of what my Bhotanta will look like:

post-246-14046807486_thumb.png

"Mind like parachute, function only when open."

(Charlie Chan)

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Meanwhile the first four pages of the Bhotanta setting are mostly finished, with notes on the

geography, flora and fauna, population, settlements, politics, military, diplomacy and economy.

Much of this is adapted from real world Bhutan, but some parts - like the military - are built

from scratch, in this case with the rules from GURPS Mass Combat, since BRP does not yet ha-

ve such rules.

The culture and religion will be a bit more work, since this is where the main differences be-

tween Bhotanta and Bhutan will be. The Cthulhu monograph Mysteries of Tibet is a good base

to start with, and there are also some other roleplaying materials with useful informations, but

most of the ideas will probably come from Wikipedia and other internet sources.

Later on I hope that Tan Xia with its informations on the Chinese culture and society will also

offer a few interesting ideas to add to my version of a Himalayan culture with an economy ba-

sed on the trade between China / Tibet and India, and which therefore could well have adopted

some ideas from their Chinese trading partners.

Once this part of the setting is at least sketched out, I will turn to the roleplaying system: BRP

options, available professions and skills, cultural skills and all that. For the equipment list the

Modern Equipment Catalog is a most useful supplement, and I hope that the second part of it

will be published soon ...

Oh, and Bhotanta now also has a flag:

post-246-140468074864_thumb.png

"Mind like parachute, function only when open."

(Charlie Chan)

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Looks pretty good. Will you be running an adventure/campaign in this country?

Thank you. :)

Yes, I intend to use Bhotanta for a small campaign, although I am not yet sure what genre it will

be. With its location between troubled regions of China (Tibet) and India (Assam) and its rough

terrain Bhotanta would probably be well suited for espionage, counter-terrorism, smuggling and

similar adventures, and I think the Royal Mountain Rangers of Bhotanta could be a good back-

ground organization for player characters.

However, I am not yet sure, the very small size of the country could also make politics and di-

plomacy or trade interesting for player characters, or a combination of all this - for example the

role of local nobles who serve as officers of the Mountain Rangers, but also have to deal with

external and internal conflicts and whose families own trading houses or a part of the nation's

small industry ...

"Mind like parachute, function only when open."

(Charlie Chan)

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I made a 3D computer model of a building that was inspired by a monastery in Bhutan for my campaign. You're welcome to it if you think it would be useful. I've attached a still, but the whole thing is modelled inside and out. PM me if you're interested.

post-569-140468074868_thumb.jpg

"Tell me what you found, not what you lost" Mesopotamian proverb

__________________________________

 

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Meanwhile I have started to work on the game system part of the setting, my usual mix of Call

of Cthulhu and BRP options.

I will introduce a few new traditional professions, mostly based upon the Tibetan professions

described in Mysteries of Tibet: Peasant, Caravaneer, Monk / Nun, Buddhist Scholar and Go-

vernment Official. Added to this will be Noble, as my Bothanta has some noble families and a

royal house. The modern professions will be the usual ones, from Craftsman to Scientist.

So far there will only be two new skills, Animal Handling and Survival, and a couple of new spe-

cialties based upon the culture of Bhotanta. However, I will modify some of the usual Call of

Cthulhu skills to prevent "skill creep", for example Electrical Repairs and Mechanical Repairs

will be combined into one Repair skill.

"Mind like parachute, function only when open."

(Charlie Chan)

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  • 5 weeks later...

I had put the setting aside for a while, and when I took a close look at it yesterday, it turned

out to be the most boring setting I have written so far - an epic fail. :(

Meanwhile I have decided to rewrite almost all of it, and to move it from the present to either

the classical Cthulhu era or the Pulp era, and to put the focus on the early contacts between

the technological, "modern" Western culture and the late medieval "religious" culture of the

Bhoti, the inhabitants of the remote mountain kingdom that has now been renamed as Bhonta.

With an isolationist Tibet, an ongoing civil war and a Japanese invasion in China, uprisings in

India and the Great Powers preparing for war in East Asia the history of the region and the po-

tential adventure hooks look a lot more promising than in a modern setting, and the limited in-

formations about the region and the reduced "power" of the available technology could also

make it more interesting.

A somewhat unexpected problem is the game system. I am not yet sure what exactly the prob-

lem is, but the Call of Cthulhu system's skills somehow do not fit the "feeling" of the intended

campaign, and my attempts to make BRP do what I imagine also do not look well.

I suspect the difficulties are caused by the cultural and technological differences between the

"Westerners" and the Bhoti, which would almost require different skill sets and subsystems for

the two cultures, or otherwise create a kind of "skill creep" with a frighteningly long list of dif-

ferent skills from both cultures.

While tinkering with this I have also made a sketch for a new map of Bhonta, one that looks a

bit more interesting (well, at least to me):

post-246-140468074899_thumb.png

"Mind like parachute, function only when open."

(Charlie Chan)

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A somewhat unexpected problem is the game system. I am not yet sure what exactly the prob-

lem is, but the Call of Cthulhu system's skills somehow do not fit the "feeling" of the intended

campaign, and my attempts to make BRP do what I imagine also do not look well.

Frankly -- just wait until Tiān Xià is published! Nominally the rulebook covers Imperial China until 1911, but I guess you can stretch it to cover the 1920s.

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Frankly -- just wait until Tiān Xià is published!

Rest assured I am eagerly waiting for it. :)

Nominally the rulebook covers Imperial China until 1911, but I guess you can stretch it to cover the 1920s.

There should be no problem, the setting does hardly change much between 1911 and 1920 (or

even 1940). While some new technologies are invented and introduced in the "West", it takes

some time before they appear in British India, and even longer before they make it to a remote

mountain kingdom in the Himalaya.

The one major difference I see are airplanes, there may well be something like a DH-4 on an

airfield near Bhonta's capital to make travelling to and from India easier for the British political

agent or members of the royal family of Bhonta, perhaps even for a first aerial photographic

survey of the small nation (a nice way to discover an adventure location).

Otherwise the technology, and therefore the culture and the skills and all that, seem unlikely to

be significantly different from those of several decades before.

"Mind like parachute, function only when open."

(Charlie Chan)

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Meanwhile I have re-written the setting for the late 1920s / early 1930s, and it really looks

much more interesting and playable now - without modern technology and modern politics

the situation in the remote Himalaya region seems a lot more challenging.

While waiting for Tian Xia, I will make a little experiment. Since the setting is currently writ-

ten in a "generic" way, without any game stats, and since it is now right in the middle of the

Pulp Era, I will try to use it for a short campaign with the Hollow Earth Expedition RPG, a Pulp

Genre game that has been recommended to me.

The activities of the characters of this short campaign could then become a part of the back-

ground events of the BRP campaign started once Tian Xia has been published, and I hope that

they will also allow me to test and improve the setting before the start of the BRP campaign.

"Mind like parachute, function only when open."

(Charlie Chan)

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