By the time you are reading this, I will have landed, but I am currently above the Atlantic Ocean, on the return journey from 2 months in the Republic of Georgia, various locales across Europe, and the Highlands of Scotland.
I’ve seen some pretty amazing things; I visited a medieval stop along the silk road, lived in the one of the most cultural diverse cities on the planet, come face to face with the Neolithic world wandered through a series of interlocking waterfalls nestled within a mountain range, and reflected on the end of the two months in one of the holiest sites in Europe, Westminster Abbey. All of this should come through in the future of Dundas West Games, extending further than just Ross Rifles.
Let’s begin with the Republic of Georgia, where I was studying as part of the GRAPE (Gadachrili Gora Regional Archaeological Project Expedition) team. Georgia (to be honest, I country had seldom thought about prior to this) is situated in a very interesting place geographically. It was an important part of the Silk Road, and connects the Near East with Europe and, beyond the Caspian Sea, Central Asia. In addition, throughout its history Georgia has been conquered by numerous foreign powers (Most recently, the former Soviet Union), which have all left their unique impacts on Georgian society and culture. As a result, Georgian culture has elements of Eastern Europe (in some of their cuisine) as well as Middle Eastern and Islamic customs (notably, in the music I heard playing on the radio, or again, in a lot of the food), but it can’t be classified as either European or Middle Eastern. The architecture is incredibly varied, from the grandeur of a Medieval or Byzantine style, to buildings which looked similar to pictures I’ve seen of places like Jordan or Syria, as well as the bland, utilitarian Soviet-era apartment buildings and offices, which even had their own charm. Nothing is the same in Georgia; every corner offers a new and unique thing to look at. The view can go from barren oil fields to lush agricultural plains to mountains without having to move anything but your eyes. The hospitality of Georgians was noted as well; in every shop, restaurant, and even just around the village we were staying in, people were friendly and as excited to learn about Canada as we were to learn about Georgia.
All of the history and culture surrounding me made me think to fantasy writers, using Western European history as their inspiration for the worlds they created. While taking inspiration from foreign cultures and places can certainly end up more as caricatures than an accurate representation of the real thing, I feel as those RPGs can also be a useful resource in expanding people’s understanding of the world, especially in the case of those do not have access to foreign travel or get to experience these places for themselves. One of the things Daniel and I do at the Royal Ontario Museum is attempt to teach children history and culture through the medium of RPGs. I believe that in my upcoming fantasy campaigns, snippets of Georgian culture, the places I’ve seen, and the people I met will be an inspiration for settings. I hope to stay in touch with a lot of my Georgian friends, and I hope that they take what I gave them of Canadian culture and try to interact it with the same way I do. I remember distinctly a moment where a Georgian colleague and I had a conversation about how he hoped to travel to Canada one day, and I attempted to discuss Canadian culture with him the same way he discussed Georgian culture with me. I hope that this open discourse is something that can be helped with the storytelling power of RPGs.
The project I was excavating two sites: Gadachrili Gora and Shulaveris Gora. These sites are associated with a culture known as the Shulaveris Shomo , and we believe that we have evidence for the oldest winemaking in the world. More information on that can be found at https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-41977709. One thing that the excavation season taught me is that digging is incredibly hard work. It really gave me a greater appreciation for the sheer amount of dirt that soldiers in the trenches had to move in order to maintain their trenches. Expect some of that to come through in the final product of Ross Rifles!
When the project ended, I left Georgia and flew to Edinburgh, where I joined with my family for two weeks of touring. Here is where the Ross Rifles content came flowing through. In the United Kingdom (much more so than in Canada), the First World War is a very conscious event in the public’s understanding of their history. This is primarily because the country was much more personally affected by the war, and it was much closer to home. In every town, from London to the small town of Broadford on the Isle of Skye, there is some sort of memorial related to the First World War. In particular, the Scottish were heavily affected; they had the highest death rate per soldier of any of the British Empire groups during the war. However, this high rate of death does not mean that the Empire’s contribution is ignored in the United Kingdom. In fact, most of the war memorials I came across had monuments to commonwealth soldiers and some even had honour lists which included Canadian names. “In Flanders Fields” by Canadian John Macrae has also been adopted as a symbol of remembrance, and poppies are an equally common icon used to denote the sacrifice of soldiers. While I wasn’t shocked by this, it got me thinking about Ross Rifles and the role our game has in the remembrance of the Canadian Contribution. Seeing the willingness to appreciate the Canadian contribution overseas made me realize that, yes, while Ross Rifles is about Canadians, it is also about the larger story of the war. To remember the contributions of Canadians and their part in the war is the piece of a greater puzzle of remembrance; not just Canadian remembrance, but British remembrance, Australian and New Zealander remembrance, and remembrance of Germans, Russians, Poles, Bulgarians, Americans, Austrians, Hungarians, Italians, Turkish, Armenians, South Africans, and the countless other peoples who died fighting a war which solved nothing. One of the things we stress with Ross Rifles is role of minorities in the fighting force of Canada, but it doesn’t have to be limited to Canada. We encourage you to expand the game to include a French platoon at Verdun, or Germans holding on in the last days of 1918. The Great War was considered the first global conflict, and as result, remains more than just a European tragedy; it was a global one.
I also visited the Imperial War Museum in London on my last day in the UK. It was incredible, and certainly deserves its own post, as do many of the other things I will be taking as inspiration from this trip. Expect those in the future!
Pictured is me on site, following a hard day of excavation.
Patrick Keenan, Lead Designer, Dundas West Games