Carved in Stone

Created by Dungeons on a Dime

A system-agnostic setting guide to Scotland’s Pictish peoples, for players, historians and enthusiasts of all ages!

Latest Updates from Our Project:

Behind the Scenes / Part 5: May 2022
19 days ago – Fri, Jun 10, 2022 at 06:12:07 AM

Welcome to May’s update! As always, life has been hectic (a new book launch, conventions, illnesses and holidays on the team), but there are some fun things to dig into this month, including answering your questions from the past few months.

But first, some good news!

Create: Inclusion Funding

It’ll be announced next week officially, but we’ve received funding from Creative Scotland for our accessibility strand project! We’ve got funding to work with Yubi Coates, a visual accessibility consultant and activist, to make Carved in Stone easier to read with screenreaders. This synchronises nicely with our recent delays, allowing Yubi to come in from the beginning of the design process. So, silver linings!

We’re also aiming to produce a collection of workflow documents that facilitate this sort of inclusive work in radical new ways for different skill levels, from the more basic theories through to more specialised in-depth InDesign and Acrobat DC retagging. Like Carved in Stone, all of this will be available under a Creative Commons license.

Yubi and Brian will start working on this project over Summer 2022, aiming for deliverable results somewhere in early-to-mid Winter 2022.

Trove: Workshop Rewards

In the coming weeks, Brian will be reaching out to touch base with the Trove backers who will be receiving workshops. He'll be doing this through Kickstarter's direct message service, with a Google Form to fill. First up are the Writer's Workshops with team writer Lizy Simonen, but others will follow soon!

Answering Your Questions

We’ve got a lot of questions from you all! Dr Heather won’t be able to answer all of them in just one update, so we’re going to break them up across several updates to make sure they all get answered. If you have a question you’d like answered (or if any of these answers spark new questions), please feel free to leave them in the comments and we’ll add them to the list!

How do we keep modern biases from creeping into the book? 

(Jo and an Anonymous MuseumNext Audience Member)

Whenever anyone studies anything, they have inherent, usually unintentional, biases that they bring to the table (including you and me!). We do that because we were raised in a society that has inherent biases, and we work in a field that at least some of those biases have shaped.

Through this self-awareness, we’re able to take several steps to try and counteract our biases and prevent them from creeping into the book.

  • We are working on each topic as a team so that individual biases are less likely to make it through. We also hope to work with specialist writers on relevant topics, who may highlight alternative perspectives or narratives.
  • We are going to be playtesting the setting with a variety of players who can also give feedback on potential biases.
  • We will be bringing in sensitive readers to point out anything we’ve missed in terms of social context or interpretation.
  • Our draft text is going to be reviewed by additional Pictish specialists, to ensure we haven’t misrepresented or missed anything in terms of evidence.

It is impossible to write any text without bias; even the word Pict comes with baggage. However, we hope that through each of these measures, we can question, adjust and minimise the negative impact of biases we hold (consciously or subconsciously) about the past (and also the present).

What was their diet, particularly the main carbohydrates? 

(Margie Ramsay and Delmer Bobby Eugene Fry)

The Picts ate a lot of beef, pork and lamb/mutton/goat for protein, with occasional fish or venison. There are sites where they ate lots of shellfish, but that seems to be a bit limited. There is some evidence to infer they consumed dairy products like cheese and butter, too.

Barley and oats were the most important grain sources, with wheat and rye also making an appearance. While fruit and veg remains don’t survive well archaeologically, there is sufficient evidence of apples, raspberries and wild cherries.

While we don’t have strict evidence, we can infer the Picts likely ate wild plums, brambles, lingonberries, cloudberries, elderflower, rose-hips, rowan berries and a whole host of other plants native to that area of Scotland. The same is true for cabbages, leeks, kale and wild varieties of carrot. For more savoury tastes, there were wild garlic and watercress along with mugwort, chanterelles, samphire, nettles and a variety of seaweeds. There are also lots of roasted hazelnut and acorn shells across Pictish sites, too!

All of these individual ingredients would reasonably combine into a cookbook’s worth of seasonal dishes. Throughout the year, Picts would have been able to plan meals and keep pantries stocked with snacks, special brews, desserts and other comforts we don’t normally associate with early medieval cultures.

How tall was the average Pict? 

(Margie Ramsay)

There haven’t been huge amounts of research into this, and stature can be tricky to measure without complete skeletal remains, but we can estimate from the length of the femur and other long bones.

Researchers from the University of Liverpool estimated the average height of male remains at Portmahomack in the 6th-7th century was about 172cm (about 5ft 8in.) and the average height of female remains were about 158cm (about 5ft 2in.). That may seem a bit short, but a national health study in Scotland from 2008 lists the average height of men to be 175cm (5ft. 9in) and of women to be about 161.3cm (about 5ft. 3.5in.), which is only slightly taller than the average from Portmahomack over a millennium ago.

Extra Reading

If you want to dig even further into Pictish history, we recommend having a read of Portmahomack on Tarbat Ness. It’s a free book focusing on Iron Age Pictland, published as a free PDF from the Society of Antiquarians.

That’s all for this month. See you again soon for June’s update!

Behind the Scenes: Part 4 April / 2022
about 2 months ago – Tue, May 10, 2022 at 06:50:30 AM

Welcome back to another behind-the-scenes from Carved in Stone! In brief, this update covers:

  • more detailed contents for the book
  • fun facts about Pictish diet
  • analogies about the practicalities of research and the latest problems we’re facing
  • a revised timetable, and some delays in delivery
  • an in-depth look at our research workflow 
  • a callout for a section in next month’s update - a Q&A with Dr Heather!

Innovation Voucher

Good news, everybody! It took so much longer than anticipated, but we've had confirmation of the first of two innovation vouchers from the University of Glasgow! Once we deliver on the first voucher, we’ll be able to apply for the second, allowing us to bring on a team of undergraduate researchers to support the rest of the book. We’ll be applying for that in the next few months, so that it will be ready for August/Septemeber.

Book Section Order

We drew out each of the 60 spreads of the book, so that we could see the context or where each topic was going, as well as how much space we were devoting to each section.

Last month we showed you our general concept for how we were organising content in Carved in Stone. This month, Heather and I sat down and plotted out how much space we were dedicating to each topic throughout the setting guide, page by page.

This was hugely helpful for us but doesn’t necessarily mean much if you’re not sitting in our meetings. I’ve included the spread-by-spread breakdown in this update’s comments, for anyone that is curious.

What’s for dinner?

To be able to develop the content of the book further, we needed to test our researching, writing and designing skills by taking a topic as close to finished as we could.

It was a chicken-and-egg problem; if we spent time developing the wrong topic, we may find that we’d need to rewrite its content and redesign the page it was on. There’s a lot that can shift and change during development, so we needed something stable that could also have diminishing returns in other areas. Through the complex mind map that we developed last month, we found that diet intersected a lot of other topics; flora, fauna, local biomes, technology, settlement structures, and even gender roles. Anything we researched for it would flow into other parts of the setting guide.

Pictish Diet — pickier than you’d think…

Heather’s research into diet starts with a lot of questions. Was the Pict’s food wild, domesticated, foraged, or more likely a combination of all three? What evidence exists for how this food was consumed? If no direct evidence exists for the Picts, could we substitute evidence from adjacent cultures geographically from the same time period? Bringing it all together, what can we infer about the Picts' daily lives from their diet?

Evidence takes many different forms. Scotland’s varied environments have their own ways of degrading what we humans leave behind. Some soils rot away everything but the tooth enamel of a skeleton, while others preserve everything but the tooth enamel. Tools, equipment and containers can be hard to distinguish after a thousand years of being squished under mud. Contemporary science can help fill in gaps in the evidence; for example, crops tend to have an upper limit to the elevation they prefer to grow in, sitting at around 200m/65ft above sea level, and summer grazing cattle rarely stray above 600m/200ft. There’s so much raw information to digest, across a lot of different academic disciplines.

From what Heather has found so far, we feel confident that the Picts consumed a lot of meat and fish products, both hunted and domesticated; beef, pork, lamb, mutton, goat, semi-domesticated fowl (ducks and geese, but not chickens), venison, and shellfish, freshwater fish, and more. Herds of Roe Deer were so common in Pictland that they would wander the low grasslands, and possibly even into early Christian monasteries. Much of this evidence comes from scattered sites across Scotland, like Portmahomack, a settlement on the north shore that later developed into a monastery. This evidence is scattered not just geographically, but also in time; because there are so few sources, we have to rely on information from the 2nd century through the 8th and 9th even though the events of the setting guide take place in the 685CE (+/- 20). This brings us to vegetables.

Practicalities of Research

Researching the Picts has proved so much harder than we first assessed. It’s not like writing about the Romans, Vikings, or even other time periods. Those areas have large bodies of research, and that research has been digested into papers, commented on, discussed, referenced, and so on. Like the roads of a city, you can navigate from subject to subject fairly easily, and find unexpected connections.

Researching the Picts is different. The raw data exists, but often in master's or PhD theses that are chock full of specialist lingo. We have found that some of the theses we’ve looked at sometimes draw conclusions that disagree with their own evidence; one page will provide evidence of milk and cheese production, only for the conclusion to say there was no dairying in Pictland at all. Furthermore, much of our research takes the form of raw data from site reports; this is highly specialised and needs expert interpretation to understand.  This means you can’t skim through for quick answers; you’re in the wilderness and need to hike slowly and carefully through uncharted territories.

It’s only with recent leaps in technology that archaeologists have been able to expand the thin (and often biassed) evidence that is available about the Picts. There are still many subjects that we have to infer from other cultures—vegetables and green foods being one of them. There are so many edible plants that can be foraged in Scotland, and many of them have remained entirely wild for thousands of years. However, just because we know they can be eaten, doesn’t mean we can assume the Picts ate them. Furthermore, just because there are accounts of vegetable harvests in, say, Northumbria, doesn’t mean we can assume the Picts farmed those same crops or would have traded for them.

Working on Pictish diet has been invaluable this month. It's definitely given us a boost for other sections; this next month we’ll be working closely with Forestry & Land Scotland to develop the Biomes you’ll be able to explore throughout Scotland, and many of the different animals and plants we’ll be asking about have come about from our research into diet.

Editors Note: Pretty much the day before I was going to publish this update, our connections through Forestry & Land Scotland directed us to the most AMAZING resource on foragables, animal husbandy, folk traiditions and natural remedy in Scotland, much of which connects to the time period we’re looking at. On our own, we never would have found it, and the book is £250+ second hand, because it’s out of print, with no PDF options. There are times when folks have already beaten a path for us to follow, but often those paths are blocked by paywalls or social gates. This is why we’re so dedicated to making sure Carved in Stone’s final outcomes are open access.

Project Timeline Update

We chose to use diet and cooking as our launching point because we knew it could lead us to lots of other areas of the book. However, it's also shown us that it’s going to take a lot longer to gather the evidence for this setting guide than we estimated. A positive takeaway is that there will be a snowball effect with our efforts, accumulating more facts for each section passively alongside our active investigations. However, the level of research we need to do is more on par with a PhD in Pictish academic literature, rather than a simple consultation and fact finishing mission.

Understandably, we’ve decided to extend the research and content development of this book by several months.

You can see a new, full timeline in the chart above, but here are the key details:

  • Research and Writing is extended until December 2022
  • Design and Illustration will happen from January to March of 2023*
  • Physical Rewards will deliver mid-to-late 2023
  • Free Public Release is delayed until 2024

*I will be doing preemptive design during the writing process, expecially to crate example spread to show guest writers and help guide the spaces they write for. However, they’ll also be an intense period of laying out in January where I have the full final text and need to coordinate all of it together.

We have the capacity and funding to make these delays safely, in part thanks to the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. It also comes with benefits. We now have more breathing room to share playtest content with you as we write it, and provide more forgiving deadlines to guest writers and illustrators for the book.

We’ve given ourselves more time than we think we’ll need. Hopefully, this means we’ll be able to compensate for unexpected issues in the future!

Workflow Development

This last month we’ve made significant progress on our workflow regarding how we develop content. If you said this seems quite basic, I’d agree — however, this is a new process for everyone involved, and part of this project is creating a clear path for other creators to follow for consistent results.

Dr Jeff Sanders, from the SoAoS, is the first to say that archaeology, as a field, doesn’t often think about how it presents its data. Papers are often written for other academics, and new discoveries can take years to reach the public in meaningful ways. We hope these development workflows help academics and non-academics work together to digest complex research and then disseminate that through new formats.

Long story short, this is the approach we’re taking:

  1.  Metadata. Researchers triage the data they’re looking to collect; what is essential, important, and nice to have? What important questions are being asked, and what answers do they expect to find?
  2.  Research Notes. After triaging, Researchers compile important facts from sources. These include all details, many of which will be tangential or could lead to (current) dead ends or speculation.
  3.  Cliff Notes. Once the research notes are comprehensive, the researcher digests them down into what an audience would actually find interesting. For example, most readers don’t need to know about tooth enamel composition but are interested that the Picts ate large amounts of meat and fish.
  4.  Briefing. Researchers examine the cliff notes with the writers. Writers have the opportunity to ask deeper questions, without being overwhelmed by stacks of raw data. The researchers can expand on questions with their own notes or mark areas for further research. This is a good opportunity for guest writers to expand research notes with their own interpretations of data.
  5.  First Draft (review). Once all questions are answered from the briefing, writers move ahead with organising information into a coherent flow; picking out the narratives that capture the reader’s imagination. Their first draft is reviewed by researchers for consistency (usually once all first drafts are complete). Once a first draft is completed, it goes for line editing.
  6.  Layout. All drafts are organised and laid out; references/footnotes are added in the text, and designers experiment with the hierarchy and flow of information on the page.
  7.  Illustrations (consultation). Artists are briefed, using the spread’s text as a basis and the cliff notes for further context.
  8.  Final Draft (review). Before signing off on the final draft, a final review is made by researchers (and relevant sensitivity readers) to make sure all information is consistent.

Next Month: Q&A With Heather

Before I end this update, I want to leave you with something exciting to look forward to for next month. In February, we asked for what you wanted to know about the Picts, so that we could better shape the contents of the book to be useful to you! Dr Heather Christie will be helping answer some of those questions, and any others you ask in the comments section in next month’s update.

We got some really great queries last time, touching on sexuality, community, architecture, religion and more. We’re excited to hear what you’ve got to ask, especially as it highlights any gaps in our own approaches to the book!

That’s it for our April update! Next month we hope to have a few first drafts of content to share with you :)

Behind The Scenes: Part 3 / March 2022
3 months ago – Tue, Apr 05, 2022 at 07:40:50 PM

Hello everyone!

March was a productive month, but not without setbacks. COVID, Jury Duty, respecting strike picket lines and more. We've had to navigate a lot of important conversations happening inside our team. Let's dig into it!

Book Contents... Curriculum... uh... Topics?

This month we've been working in-depth with Dr Heather Christie (who we introduced in our last update) to understand all of the different links between what we want to cover and all of the complications that come with that. Believe me when I say there are a lot of (very fun, interesting) complications. 

Carved in Stone sits at an intersection between educational material and a roleplaying supplement for the purposes of entertainment. This month we've had to really reconcile what goal posts that's set for us. 

 What passive and active messages could we be sending with the content we're curating? 

There are many instances of subjects that have a complicated relationship with the reader.

Here's one of the more straightforward topics we've been wrestling with: Weapons & Armour. 

In a traditional fantasy setting guide, this would be your bread-and-butter; a large portion of readers will want to know what the equivalent of a dagger is, how much damage it does, and if you can backstab with it.

Violence and history have a complex relationship. There are countless wars recorded in the past, largely because they were so terrible. However, even with bloodshed, fewer people died in skirmishes than you'd expect. Just like today, people don't want to die.

How much we talk about armaments can send different messages:

  •  Just by including them, we're saying that violence is a legitimate option for conflict resolution. If we start to apply mechanics to them, we reinforce that tenfold.
  •  If we talk about them too much, we overstate the importance of violence-based conflicts. This could be misrepresenting actual history, and how folks thought of and approached violence in the past.
  •  If we don't include it, we're also misrepresenting the past; people did fight and kill each other.

The context of where we place weapons is something we had a 3-hour meeting about. It was definitely a fun problem to gnaw at, but also a very intense conversation:

  •  Giving Armaments their own section oversells their importance in the day-to-day lives of the Picts.
  •  Placing Armaments in the context of their consequences (e.g. sandwiching in between sections on medicine and healing, and the many ways that people could be injured) can help communicate the severity of their use.
  •  Including Armaments alongside other everyday tools shows they had a specific time, place and use, and that there are many other ways to solve a problem.

So what's going to be in the book?

We're still developing our list of topics, and the order we want to cover them. Overall, these are the approaches we'll be using to guide how we talk about each section.

  •  Observing past cultures. When talking about human cultures, our aim is to present our evidence and interpretations neutrally; we're presenting not moral judgements, nor are we glorifying or praising. Furthermore, Modern Scotland is a land full of dead cultures; the Picts are just one of the many that are being explored here.
  •  Positive, affirming language. We want to describe cultures in terms of what they are, not what they aren't. We want to avoid comparisons to the present.
  •  Appreciating our differences. What makes roleplay so special is how players are able to reflect on their own lives through the fiction they create. There are many parallels between our current problems and those faced by past cultures. We hope to appreciate those differences.
  •  Drawing attention to the loss of natural resources. Scotland's landscape looked drastically different 1400 years ago. In the context of the climate crisis, we want to give space to mourn the many diverse species and biomes that have been lost through the consequences of human action.

We're confident in our 'zooming' approach to exploring the Picts. We want to start with a wide, lush picture of 7th century Scotland, and focus further and further, relying on the context we establish from the beginning. Here's an overview of what we have so far:

>> Section 0: The What, Why and How

We'll start by introducing the time period (685CE with a margin of 15 years on either side), which will define what's happened already (e.g. the Roman Empire) and what's yet to happen (e.g. the arrival/invasion of the Norse - sorry, no Vikings yet).

Part of this will be showing how Archaeologists know what they know - the types of evidence we're relying on (like carved stone, graves, remaining architecture, etc), and what each can tell us. 

Rounding off, we'll also explore the different parallels between us and the Picts, and what sort of stories you might want to sink your teeth into.

>> Section 1: The Natural World

Starting the book 'proper', we'll show you what Scotland looks like in 685CE; the different biomes, flora, fauna, and how intermingled and overlapping they are. By establishing the natural world, we provide a base context for the rest of the book. We also establish that humans lived in the natural world, unlike today where the natural world lives in boxes we humans carve out for it.

>> Section 2: The Human World inside the Natural World

Taking a step closer, we then cover how people moved around Scotland, the ways they travelled, their methods of survival, and how this influences the five kingdoms in Scotland at this time.

This section will be the largest by far; we'll be covering what 'typical' Pictish life looks like, including social and physical responsibilities, medicine and health, production, identities, the necessity of work, recreational activities and folk culture. 

We aim to highlight 'story hooks' throughout; individual scenes or questions that can be explored on their own or in context. 

On top of that, there's trade, migration, language, literacy, religion, and points of interest - all of these influence the next section.

>> Section 3: The Specifics of the Human World

Moving even closer, we examine Fortriu, the legacy of King Bridei Mac Bili III, court politics, social hierarchies and the many exceptions therein.

This is the conclusion of everything we've built up to; we can talk about schisms in the Celtic Christian and Roman Christian churches, the Battle of Nechtansmere and the chaos it caused for everyone involved, the absorption of Pagan Pictish culture into Christian Pictish culture, and many other nuanced topics.

This section will contain connected story hooks; wider problems to explore over several sessions of play, similar to a campaign.

>> Section 4: The Stories We Tell (the adventure)

Where the previous three sections were 'passive' (essentially us presenting information), the adventure at the end of the book will be 'active'. We start fully zoomed in on a single village, Lair, and allow players to understand their relationships with each other, their neighbours, and the village as a whole. 

As the story advances, the players have the liberty of exploring Pictland bit by bit, being introduced to all of the information in the last three sections in bite-size chunks.

At the end of the adventure comes a reflective debrief; players get to review everything they did in the context of what evidence would have survived from their exploits, and how that might be interpreted by Archaeologists today. The stories they told as Picts might be incredibly different to stories we hear thousands of years later.



That is, as briefly as I can summarise, some of what we've been working on this past month.  It's not all we've been doing - Jeff and Gareth have been collating research on topics assigned by Heather, for example. A lot of our progress is hard to evidence right now, as it's all papers, documents, meetings, and the like.

Our goal is to have the full structure of the book finished this month and to start getting content written, hopefully with the majority developed in time for May/June. 

We'll see you next month!

Brian and the CIS Team

Behind The Scenes: Part 2 / February 2022
4 months ago – Tue, Mar 08, 2022 at 11:39:20 AM

Hello everyone!

February has been a slower month than January. A lot of that is due to circumstances outside of our control, and the emotional drain ongoing events across the world have had on members of our team. This is also why the update is a week late (though it doesn’t help that February is a tricksy month with fewer days!)

Though I’m patient and understanding of the health and needs of freelancers I hire for the books I publish, it can be more difficult to extend that same care to myself. The lesson I’m trying to take out of February is to keep going, but also that it is okay to go at your own pace.

Anyhow, onto this month’s developments.

Talk VOD: MuseumsNext

We spent the first about a week putting together our talk for MuseumsNext. While the talk itself doesn’t necessarily break any new ground about Carved in Stone, it does contain insights about the funding process and the risks behind multi-disciplinary collaborations. There were some good questions at the end, too (but unfortunately MuseumsNext didn't save them ):  )

Overall, talks like this are good outreach for projects like ours. Especially for ‘niche’ interests like history, it can be surprisingly hard to actually share the results of your work. Not only did it help get in pre-orders for the book, but it put the whole project on the radar of larger arts & heritage organisations like the MoMa and the Smithsonian!

Research Partners from Glasgow University

This month we’re formalising our working relationship with two fantastic archaeological researchers; they’re the core of the team we’ll be working with because of our Innovation Voucher. I am genuinely so excited to work with Dr Heather Christie and Dr Gareth Beale.

Dr Heather Christie is a disabled/chronically ill gamer and an archaeologist who will absolutely talk your ear off about early medieval glass. While working in museum education (both before and during their PhD), they noticed archaeologists often have trouble communicating what we know to the public, so they started the Archaeoplays YouTube channel to help fix that. Aside from glass, Heather also has an unhealthy knowledge of Minecraft and Stardew Valley, and you'll probably find them playing one or the other on a snowy, cosy weekend.

Dr Gareth Beale is a lecturer in digital archaeology at the University of Glasgow and is fascinated by the use of non-traditional media to tell stories about archaeology. This includes work developing immersive installations for museums and making experimental non-linear films about archaeological wanderings through the landscape. His work has featured in museums across the country as well as at the recent COP26 summit in Glasgow. When not doing archaeology Gareth is currently likely to be found noodling around with analogue synths, reading John Wyndham novels and building camera obscuras.

We’re hoping to be able to share some of our draft work and workflows with you in March’s update, and

New Sponsorships

Excitingly, we’ve been approached by a number of different Scottish charities that saw the success of our project through various outreach channels, and want to partner up. This includes: several Scottish Counties that want their own Pictish ruins to feature in the book; and Forestry & Land Scotland, who are hoping to cross-pollinate discussions of land stewardship and the climate crisis.

Their contributions are a perfect pairing of providing access to specialist researchers from their own teams, and small pools of funding to commission shared outcomes (such as hiring writers and illustrators). More news to follow, but it’s unexpected (and deeply appreciated) that these opportunities are coming to us, rather than us having to hunt them down.

Funding Updates

This one is short. The Create: Inclusion fund application was submitted, and passed initial checks. It’s now up for review with Creative Scotland (fingers crossed!). We’re putting the finishing touches on the Innovation Voucher, and that’ll be submitted either this or next week.

That's all for this update. We'll be back in a few weeks with our progress for March :)

Behind The Scenes: Part 1 / January 2022
5 months ago – Wed, Feb 02, 2022 at 12:03:37 PM

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