Seeking Geograpy help

Greenfield

Adventurer
As some of you may know, we've set our campaign in something based on the real world.

I'm currently setting up another battle between the Persians and the Greeks at Thermopylae Pass.

And that's the area I need help with.

From what I've been able to find, Thermopylae isn't a high mountain pass. It's actually a gap between the mountains and the Gulf of Malia, a inlet that connects to the Agean Sea and cuts about a quarter of the way across the Greek peninsula.

There are sulfurous hot springs there (from which the area got its name), and a lot of volcanic caves. This area was believed to be a gateway to the underworld, an historic fact that plays nicely into our campaign theme.

Here's my problem: While this area is described as being a pass between the sea and the mountains, the classic battle there is said to have been between a Spartan force of 300 who faced off against a Persian force numbering in the thousands, and that the 300 stalemated the far superior force (for three days) between two towering cliffs.

Anybody have a good description of this area, one that can explain the apparent contradiction of an ocean on the east, and cliffs there as well?
 

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slobster

Hero
For one thing, as I recall, it wasn't just 300 men defending the pass. Close to a thousand men from a nearby city and other parts of Greece reinforced them, fleeing only on the last day when defeat was obviously inevitable.

They had also partly fortified a hill, I believe, which served as a last redoubt. And they had longer spears and better equipment than their foes, as well as mastery of the phalanx tactic which proved decisive when employed defensively against the less disciplined Persians.

I think the cliffs are not the towering sheer faces shown in the movie "300", but were more like very craggy rockfaces, extremely dangerous to climb but not pure vertical slabs of rock.

And yes, as I understand it one of the sides of the pass was ocean.
 

Sekhmet

First Post
I think the cliffs are not the towering sheer faces shown in the movie "300", but were more like very craggy rockfaces, extremely dangerous to climb but not pure vertical slabs of rock.

And yes, as I understand it one of the sides of the pass was ocean.

As you can see in modern pictures of the scene of the battle, to the left you had some mountains - not exactly cliff faces, but certainly too difficult for an army to pass through on any sort of time table. On the right was the water, where a highway runs now.
 

Celebrim

Legend
Wikipedia is a reliable resource for anything that isn't of immediate political interest.

Here's my problem: While this area is described as being a pass between the sea and the mountains, the classic battle there is said to have been between a Spartan force of 300 who faced off against a Persian force numbering in the thousands, and that the 300 stalemated the far superior force (for three days) between two towering cliffs.

There are several gross simplifactions in that. First, while it's true that the Spartan force was just 300 Spartan citizens, the Spartans were backed up by about 900 Helot servants/skirmishers and about 3000 other Greeks under Leonidas and another 2000 or so local Greeks whose cities stood in the immediate path of the Persians.

The Persians probably numbered about 200,000-300,000.

Anybody have a good description of this area, one that can explain the apparent contradiction of an ocean on the east, and cliffs there as well?

The pass overlooks the ocean. It's a drop down on one side, not a climb up. Additionally, the ocean is a bay that extends into a valley, so that on either side of the bay the hills rise steeply up with only a narrow area of flat land. It's not a glacial fjord, but that picture might give you much of the right idea. There are pictures of the modern pass, but they show about 4 times as much land as was present then. The modern bay is much smaller than the one at the time of the battle. The pass was probably only about 100 yards wide at the time. The Persian army was trying to advance along one side of the valley, between the finger of the Gulf of Malia sticking into the valley and the steep hills on the other side.
 

Greenfield

Adventurer
Of course the legend version is a gross simplification. And that works just fine for a game. I have no intentions of trying to manage a battle involving a few hundred thousand men using D&D combat rules.

I mean, I may be crazy, but I ain't nuts.

No, the simplified version is pretty much all that will fit on a battle mat.

The key fact is that at that point the pass is too narrow for more than a few men to meet in battle. That takes away a lot of the advantage greater numbers bring. You might outlast in a battle of attrition, but you won't be able to overwhelm with sheer force.

The PCs, in my case, have opted to defend the Anopaean pass, described as a "goat path". It's how the Persians got behind the Greeks the first time.

Since I've included various magical beasts, it does change the face of things, but while giant eagles can carry people (as can dragons), they really can't carry enough people to make a difference.

I've also specified that the sea gods of the two empires are fighting each other, and the resultant storms provide the happy coincidence that keep the Persian fleet bottled up in port.

Since gods depend on their worshippers, and the worshippers depend on their gods at times like these, a simple truth becomes evident: If you want to bring down an empire, you have to take down their gods as well.

That factoid is kind of basic to the mega-plot of our world. And it follows that when you attack the followers, you're attacking the deity's power base, and the deity will act to defend himself.

So what the PCs need to do is settle with the force sent to secure the secondary pass. Put them down or drive them back so solidly that the enemy will consider that route impassable.

And, for fun, the party Druid, who the others refer to as an "eco-terrorist" decided to try the Contagion, Mass spell on the invading army. A military camp is a horrible place to start a plague.

The down side of this type of bio-warfare is that the spell isn't even a little subtle (a cloud of red and black swirling mists), and has zero incubation time, so the enemy can tell immediately what's going on. The infected don't have any time to infect anyone else, and can be isolated at once.

Or, plan B, the area of the Contagion spell is exactly the same area as a Fireball. It's a hard decision, but a commander who can't make the hard decisions isn't fit to command.
 


Dozen

First Post
I've also specified that the sea gods of the two empires are fighting each other, and the resultant storms provide the happy coincidence that keep the Persian fleet bottled up in port.

Wow. Nice.
But shouldn't that give the Greeks an edge? A big one? If all of the Greek Sea Gods are on the player's side, the Persians are pretty much **ed no matter what. Just the sheer number of them exceeds that of the whole Persian pantheon, and they aren't some peaceful gods of seaweed, either(well, except for Thalassa, who kind of was, IIRC). I'd be a little more specific so the odds stay on the enemy's side. Like, Poseidon's or Phorcys's family. For drama, I vote for the latter. Poseidon ruled the whole place and everyone today has heard of him by now, while all Phorcys had are his wife who talks to whales and their weirdo kids. Let's say that Poseidon sent them to take care of the Persian mess in his backyard, greater classical deities were pricks like that.
 
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Celebrim

Legend
I have no intentions of trying to manage a battle involving a few hundred thousand men using D&D combat rules.

It may be nuts, but you might find it is worth it. There is something about a truly epic battle as a highlight of a campaign that really few things can match. You wouldn't even necessarily need complex rules. Representing each 100 or 500 men as a single figure, picking a scale, and running the battle using something like the normal rules can be a whole lot of fun. We used Battlesystem back in the day to do our abstraction, but I'm sure there are several intersting (and probably better done) mass combat systems out there.

Granted, Thermopolyae was hardly interesting tactically speaking. It was a sheer attrition battle, and the Greeks really didn't have a chance. Sort of lost in the inpirational nature of the battle, is that it was a disasterous defeat for the Greek allies.
 

Greenfield

Adventurer
Regarding sea deities: The Persians didn't actually have one. They followed Zoroastrianism, which was the philosophical foundation for much of Judaism, and hence Christianity. To find an appropriate deific power I had to go Sumerian.

And when Persia was subjugated by Rome their deities lost a lot of followers.

The Greeks were also subjugated by Rome, but their religions weren't suppressed. Instead their gods were copied, lock, stock and thunderbolt.

But the point of the battle at sea isn't who wins. The mere fact that the battle continues gives Poseidon an excuse to create storms. They're a byproduct of the conflict.

As I mentioned i another thread, our game group's view of the gods and their mortal interactions is that to them the world is a great game board, and we're the pawns (and knights, bishops, kings and queens). Directly interfering in mortal affairs is against the rules, and licenses your opponent to do the same.

So, while the storms provide the coincidental side effect of keeping the Persian fleet from taking to the sea, they can only be maintained as a byproduct of the deific conflict. If the Persian/Sumerian deity were to yield the field, there would be no excuse for the storms, and his people could triumph.

But the gods of legend were prideful and petty, and the idea of accepting defeat at the hands of the other deity just isn't palatable, so... Poseidon wins not only tactically, but strategically as well.

Regarding epic battles: I'm running one. Over five thousand Persians attacking a little over one thousand Greeks. Dragons with riders are in the sky, as are giant harpy-eagles, and are being opposed by, well, not much. Athens sent some troops, accompanied by giant owls with riders from the temple of Athena. Good scouts and couriers, but no match for either the sand drakes or the eagles in airborn combat.

Strangely, they'd beat the dragons on sheer areal maneuverability using flyby attacks. They can move beyond breath weapon range after the strike, and maneuver so the dragon has to turn around each time to try and strike at them. The dragons just don't have the maneuverability. "Poor" fliers, by the book, and unless they have the Wingover feat they simply can't close with them. They also don't have the option of a Ready Action to wait for the strike. They have to take a move action every round to stay in the air, and if they're taking move actions they can't Ready one. So, while they have a great top speed, they get torn to shreds by the more nimble opponents.

Giant eagles, on the other hand, will rip the owls a new one, fast.

No, we're running a full scale conflict, but I'm not going to drag it out for weeks of in-game time.

Note: All but one of the Dragons are "Juvenile", which means no fear aura. And that one? She's in Anopaea, facing the PCs.

Otherwise she could do a low fly over on the Greeks and route the army in a single pass. Not much of a battle, eh?

The rationale for not using her that way is simple: They don't want to lose her. The spellcasters in the Greek forces would let loose with everything they had if she made herself that singular a target. She could make every saving throw there is and she still wouldn't make it. The bulk of the army would be routed, briefly, but enough would remain to plug the pass while the commanders gathered up and regrouped their forces.

No, a maneuver like that has to be held for just the right moment.
 

Celebrim

Legend
Regarding sea deities: The Persians didn't actually have one. They followed Zoroastrianism, which was the philosophical foundation for much of Judaism, and hence Christianity.

Now there is a declaration likely to be somewhat contriversial. Given the time frame and the tiny number of surviving texts from the period I don't think it is at all conclusive in which direction the flow of information was going. And given that Zoroastrianism is emphaticly dualistic and Judaism is emphaticly monotheistic, I don't think you can make nearly so broad of claim as one giving the other a philosophical foundation. It is not at all certain which religion first codified its doctrine, and there is wild guesses as to the actual antiquity of both religions. (It's worth noting that by the internal evidence, Judaism claims to be older than Zoroastrianism.) It is just as likely that Judaism influenced Zoroaster's reforms of existing Vedic polytheism, as Zoroaster influenced Judiac philosophy. There is however no textual or archival evidence either way, although personally the more logical direction, given that Zoroaster demoted all other dieties in the Indo-Persian pantheon to the status of demons, is that Zoroaster is the one being influenced by introduction to the concept of monotheism (for parallels, see Mohammed's encounter with monotheism and the resulting challenge to and syncretism of Arabian polythiesm). Or, as wikipedia puts it, "Although these unifying notions deeply influenced the modernists of the late 19th and early 20th century, they have not fared well under the scrutiny of more recent interdisciplinary peer review. The study of pre-Islamic Iran has itself undergone a radical change in direction since the 1950s, and the field is today disinclined to speculation."

In other words, the so called 'scholars' were pulling things out of their hindparts, and you are repeating someone who is repeating someone whose knowledge was limited to the available evidence 60-100 years ago.

There simply is no textual or archaelogical evidence. Even the claim in wikipedia, "Most scholars believe that key concepts of Zoroastrian eschatology and demonology influenced the Abrahamic religions.", which is a much weaker (and therefore harder to disprove) assertion, turns out to rest on the existance of documents from the 9th century AD. If you actually go back to the documents from the 5th century BC, the eschatological concepts were much less developed and similar. It is therefore at least as likely that Zoroastrians were copying Abrahamic escatology as the other.
 

Dozen

First Post
Regarding sea deities: The Persians didn't actually have one. They followed Zoroastrianism, which was the philosophical foundation for much of Judaism, and hence Christianity. To find an appropriate deific power I had to go Sumerian.

Yeah, well no, they totally did. It's called Vourukasha or something like that(I know, an it, but nobody said they had to be people). Where did you get that Zoroastrianism didn't have deities? Sure, Persians invented Devas and whatnot, but they had actual gods back there, too. Should they go and cry in the corner(those who have eyes, anyway)? They weren't worshipped for some thousand years, cut them some slack and look them up! It took me three minutes. The Persians even went ahead and categorized them for us by a divine rank system eons prior tabletop gaming like they knew some nerds would roleplay them in the future and wanted to spare us the trouble*, how can we say no?

*(or for something else entirely, but it's just nice to assume good, ya know?)

Besides, in the D&D sense of the word, even most kinds of Christianity has multiple deities, like the Patron Saints.
 
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Celebrim

Legend
Yeah, well no, they totally did. It's called Vourukasha or something like that. It wasn't a God, but it was worshipped, so it's a deity. Where did you get that Zoroastrianism didn't have deities?

19th Century reinterpretations of Zoroastrian scripture by a European named Martin Haug, who has actually had pretty profound influence on modern Zoroastrianism, although exactly whether his heavily Christianized Zoroastrianism represents the historic one is greatly in doubt. Haug's Westernized Zoroastrianism heavily influences the thinking of not only actual Zoroastrian religious figures, but also critically the same group of early 20th century scholars that advanced the notion of Zoroastrian being the "philosophical foundation of Judaism".

Although Zoroastrians had a 'chief diety' who was non-Created and eternal, he was served by a whole host of attendent dieties called yazads.

Besides, in the D&D sense of the word, even most kinds of Christianity has multiple deities, like the Patron Saints.

That's also a bit of a contriversial statement, but being a Protestant, I'll let it slide because of the 'in the D&D sense of the word' gives diety a profoundly indefinite meaning (how to define a deity is up to you). Besides, the comparison of Saints to Yazata is probably justified, though the Saints are elevated mortals, the Yazata are not, and the Catholics would rather fiercely claim a difference between worship and veneration.

However, given that both Catholicism and Zoroastrianism are extant religious traditions, we might ought to back off from this discussion despite its potential relevance to the campaign world in question.
 

Dozen

First Post
That's also a bit of a contriversial statement, but being a Protestant, I'll let it slide because of the 'in the D&D sense of the word' gives diety a profoundly indefinite meaning (how to define a deity is up to you). Besides, the comparison of Saints to Yazata is probably justified, though the Saints are elevated mortals, the Yazata are not, and the Catholics would rather fiercely claim a difference between worship and veneration.

Sorry, never meant to offend. I don't know how honoring saints works, I assume a lot of people can call me out on my statements about Christians. Veneration in itself really should not count as worship, or be a requirement for it. Though I have my doubts about most people being able to tell the difference.
 
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Celebrim

Legend
Sorry, never meant to offend. I don't know how honoring saints works.

I'm not the least bit offended, but as soon as someone is (including potentially and most especially the mods), the mods will come down on a discussion like this like a ton of bricks.
 

Greenfield

Adventurer
I'm going to speak up before the Mods shut this discussion down: Let's lay off comparative religions, shall we?

When I researched Persian gods and goddesses all I got were references to Assyrian and Sumerian pantheons. So as far as I was able to determine, they had nothing uniquely their own.

For game purposes I went with Sumerian. I could have gone with Balinese Frog Worship for all the difference it makes mechanically. And to be honest, I don't think my players would know or care about the difference anyway. It's a plot device, well above the PC's pay grade in any case.
 

nijineko

Explorer
Of course the legend version is a gross simplification. And that works just fine for a game. I have no intentions of trying to manage a battle involving a few hundred thousand men using D&D combat rules.

I mean, I may be crazy, but I ain't nuts.

whyever not? there are several mass combat systems in official d&d, not including the one that would have been made, but never was until monte cook released it under his label.

now to be honest, the most i've ever tossed at a group was 130 individuals or so vs about 6 characters. the short story is that the party eventually won. i called it a cr16 encounter and we moved on. they still talk about that battle.
 

Celebrim

Legend
whyever not? there are several mass combat systems in official d&d, not including the one that would have been made, but never was until monte cook released it under his label...they still talk about that battle.

The largest battles I've participated in a D&D campaign involved about 50,000 versus about 30,000 defenders inside a walled city (with about 80,000 civilians caught in the middle). We for some reason decided to resolve it in units of 10 men. The battle took about 40 hours to resolve and spread over a two car garage, but everyone involved still talks about that weekend. We also had a naval battle involving about 100 ships, mounting a total of about 5000 mangonels, ballista, and catapolts, and involving about 45,000 sailors and marines.

I'm older now and I wouldn't necessarily resolve those battles in the same way now, but if you haven't really done an epic battle as part of a RPG campaign I think you are really missing out.
 

AuldDragon

Explorer
When I researched Persian gods and goddesses all I got were references to Assyrian and Sumerian pantheons. So as far as I was able to determine, they had nothing uniquely their own.

For game purposes I went with Sumerian. I could have gone with Balinese Frog Worship for all the difference it makes mechanically. And to be honest, I don't think my players would know or care about the difference anyway. It's a plot device, well above the PC's pay grade in any case.

I'm surprised you only found references to Mesopotamian religions; the pre-Zoroastrian religion of the Persian ancestors was closely related to the old Vedic religion (which became Hinduism). See for example Mitra (Vedic) and Mithra (Persian, who was later adopted by Romans as Mithras). I'd look to the Vedic texts to draw inferences on what could be used for a D&D game.

Jeff
 

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