Saturday, June 30, 2018

The Show

Many of the problems with show business are just problems with money—certain people have it and it insulates them from the consequences of doing bad things—but show business has another wrinkle: indispensible people. If the CEO of Audi turns out to be a cannibal tomorrow they’ll put another CEO in there and they can still make cars in the morning. If the woman playing the ice princess on your thing about the ice princess that fights the iguana zombies for the fate of the fantasy kingdom turns out to be a cannibal, well—can we at least not talk about it until the prequel is shot?

Movies are bad this way but popular tv shows, athletes and musicians are even worse—because they go on and on for so long. This is why these industries are rife with stories of high-profile performers who work together while hating each other to the bone: firing either of them is effectively firing everyone on the project. How do you get someone to do what you want if you can’t effectively threaten to let them go? Why do you always hear people saying this or that actor “demanded” this or that line be added or cut? Isn’t the director or producer supposed to be the boss? In effect, at a certain level of indispensibility, a star has no boss, only moods.

Handlers are a real thing: people hired, often secretly, to basically befriend an indispensible performer and get them to behave themselves by literally any means necessary. This often means keeping them away from drugs or alcohol, but it can just as often mean getting them drugs or alcohol—quickly, without making them leave their hotel room or stay up or out too late. A handler often has to walk the fine line between giving them enough of what they want that they’re in a good enough mood to perform and not giving them so much of it that they wake up a half-hour after their call time in a parking lot in Williamsburg without their wallet asking local kids for subway money to get to set.

These demands can extend well beyond mere substances, of course, literally any whim or human passion (or, in Demon City—inhuman passion) under the sun could take over a star and the rest of the crew just has to work around it. I know of one project where the (secret) handler’s job was to get the star to watch the film the production was parodying. The entire set becomes, in effect, a conspiracy to please their tiny god and cover up anything terrible they might do. They’ll try other solutions as well: sometimes it’s distracting the star with some new hobby, sometimes it’s trying to get them romantically involved (or keep them romantically involved) with someone who’s “good for them”. And while the star’s indispensible, the crew is not—so the only people with equal leverage are the other stars.

So there’s Mom, who’s played Lady MacBeth in fifty-seven different productions and, after three seasons, is ready to move on to something more challenging than That’s The Petersons!, there’s Dad, who’s begun collecting used bullets from around the world and whose skin is starting to dry out in a way the make-up people are starting to have trouble covering up, there’s the Daughter, who is in school for photography and sometimes follows Dad after shooting ends to see what he’s been doing because he’s so strange these days, and there’s the Son—who is working on his hip hop album and who had his jaw broken by Dad once in the alley behind 1 Oak. And there’s a whole backlot full of people trying to pretend this is normal.

See also: Library—Horrors—The Machine, Library—Horrors—Cultist, Library—Horrors—Demons of the Fourth Order,  Tables—Random Trait, Interpersonal Conflict, Organized Criminals, Relationship to Next NPC, Murder Motives

The Mayor of Demon City

His name is Harold or Leonard or Norman or Gilberto—Rosen or Suarez or Daoud or Hackwell. He started the good way—the way you’d hope a mayor would—crusading on the city council, advocate for the elderly because of something that happened to his aunt in a home. Given what he had to go on: not a bad guy.

There were never any arguments or any fireworks, no broken legs, it’s just: one day you have to meet with the real estate guys. That’s what mayors do. The real estate guys said “Meet us for breakfast” and then their people put a breakfast in front of him: the exact same breakfast he’d made for himself at home for years. It’s not like he’d ever told anyone what he made himself for breakfast. It was right down to the brand of bacon. No bits in the orange juice. The same plate.

They knew everything was the point. We can get anywhere.

The agreement was not complicated: the mayor would go on mayoring but once in a while there would be a “Don’t do that” or, less often, a “This has to happen” always with no explanation why. Sometimes these were easy to understand “The train can’t run through the Garden District” sometimes less so “No free public wi-fi on 18th and Peach”. But he didn’t want to die—and they gave him stuff—club memberships, good coverage in the news, money. He understood they were far more than just real estate people: also newspaper people, the guy that owned that cruise-ship line, the savings and loan people, the oil people…

Sometimes there’s a body they find in a river with their sternum cracked open and their skull cut four ways down the center so it opens like a rotting meat flower and the Mayor thinks “Did they do that?”. And then you wait for the police to not solve it or solve it and then probably it was just some gang or maybe they are halfway through solving it and you get a call to reprioritize.

It would be inaccurate to use the word “conspiracy” unless everything is a conspiracy. If someone invites some other guy over to look at their deer heads and says they can change the mayor’s mind and doesn’t say how and the guy goes “Sure if you change the mayor’s mind we’ll give you the La Playa contract” then is that a conspiracy? He never had the DA look into it.

The mayor was only sure of a few things:

-He was still very powerful in any area that They didn’t notice
-They were white-collar criminals and, for the most part, were waging a war on blue-collar criminals
-So almost nobody minded
-They can get to anyone
-He wants to retire
-They don’t want him to retire, they want him to run again, and they want him to win

See also: Host Section—Building A Horror Investigation: Some Adventure Formats—My First Conspiracy, Library—Horrors—The Machine, Library—Horrors—Cultist, Library—Horrors—Demons of the Second Order, Tables—Interpersonal Conflict, Organized Criminals, Relationship to Next NPC, Crime Lord Schemes, Murder Motives, Sketches and Pitches: Political Campaigns

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Friday, June 29, 2018

Equipment Lists Don't Have To Be Boring

Click to enlarge
This is Shawn Cheng's concept sketch for the first page of the Demon City equipment list--he's using stock art right now but the plan is to draw in the items like in those old X-ray specs ads in comic books.

I'm so into it. This game's gonna be so good you guys.
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Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Down and Out In Demon City

Although it seems chaotic to outside observers, homeless life is actually a highly regulated existence in a lot of ways. Major institutions and trends determine the patterns:

One of the most important is access to social services—cities generally have a wide variety of hospitals, urgent care centers, mental health facilities, testing centers, clinics, women’s centers, welfare offices, housing offices, etc that handle the homeless and indigent. They’re among the worst places in the world: in addition to being of course understaffed and underbudgeted places held together by off-white paint and chicken wire, a surprising number of the employees are just sociopaths happy to have government jobs with benefits rather than rough angels who work in places like this mostly because they want to help people (though there are a few of them). The only thing convenient about them is they’re often clustered geographically together. When they’re not, there’s usually a well-worn bus route “everybody” knows on how to get from Treatment to Housing.

The effect of this is that the homeless—especially the ones most in need of government services like the ones in wheelchairs and the ones who need regular medication—tend to hang out in these areas.

The city knows this. The city also tries to shape its homeless population’s distribution so it’s at least concentrated rather than spoiling tourist’s views all over the map. So things happen like: if someone’s released from lock-up with no fixed address, the police may actually just drop them off in the “homeless zone”. Tents and tarps are tolerated in specific places the city’s decided its not a priority to do anything about.

The other dynamic at work is that panhandling tends to be more lucrative along major downtown commercial streets. This sets up a fundamental tension: the homeless tend to beg exactly where the landlords would prefer they not beg.

The police are the front in this war between the rich and the starving. They are frequently asked to find reasons to arrest the homeless or at least scare them back to where they came from. For a Demon City host, the most important idea is: the homeless and poor are more in contact with the city’s nervous system than nearly anyone else. When they’re outside their “zone” the police are nearly constantly shuffling them off their corners and writing them tickets for blocking the sidewalk. When they’re inside their “zone” they see social workers, nurses, and patients they know constantly. They are locked into the city’s weather, its traffic patterns, its calendar. That pall of incomplete attention that can cling to their eyes isn’t stupidity—it’s sleep deprivation, because they have to match the patterns of sleep to so many factors in an outside world they have little control over. 

The homeless therefore know and see a lot. They usually have cell phones, tents, prescriptions, places they know are and are not safe to sleep and know the right hours to be there, they know which job centers and soup kitchens make you listen to a story about Jesus before feeding you, they know which person who talks like they’re dangerous is dangerous, they know which drug companies are running clinical trials and how much they pay, they know which hospital will make you wait and how long, they know the best hardware store to hang out near if you want to get picked up for day-labor, they know when its rush hour then know when its rent day, they know when welfare checks come in and when the EFTs land, and they know which pharmacy is cheapest (and they all go there). The ones at the train yard know the train schedules—and, in Demon City, if they know the tarot or astrology, they know them better than anyone. And they are often eager to answer questions for anyone who might improve things for them, even just for a little while.

See also: Host Section—Building A Horror Investigation: Some Adventure Formats—My First Conspiracy, Library—Horrors—The Machine, Library—Horrors—Cultist, Library—Horrors—Serial Killer, Tables—Interpersonal Conflict, Organized Criminals, Relationship to Next NPC, Sketches and Pitches: The Mayor of Demon City, Sketches and Pitches: The Medical Suite

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Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Don Membreño and Julio Elespe

A set-up for Demon City..

Don Membreño shook the soft hand of the pale Spaniard Julio Elespe.

The Spaniard spoke: “I understand the parameters of your business: the cocaine is manufactured, the cocaine is taken surreptitiously to the United States, it is purchased in great quantities by men and occasionally women known to be of reliable character, these distributors then arrange for it to be sold through social connections or on the streets in defined territories to individuals eager for pleasures and experiences exceeding those which society has titrated out to them. 

“At each stage the process demands that everything be hidden, that your agents are loyal, that the low remain ignorant of the mysteries above them, that police and government agents be ignorant or reliably corrupt, that rivals for control of the supply or of the territory where your product is distributed know fear. Violence occurs only when one of these requirements is not met.”

As politely as a man can do such a thing, Don Membreño encouraged the Spaniard—whom, until today, the Don knew only by reputation—to get to the point. Julio Elespe did so: “ My own business is quite similar on all of these levels. I require two things only: I require the products of this violence—the ruined bodies of those who died due to betrayal and to knowing more of your hidden world than they should, and—occasionally—I require the movement of certain texts from various places—for example The Mariano Moreno National Library of the Argentine Republic in Buenos Aires or certain homes in Bolivia—to Los Angeles. Some of these books will appear to be of no value, even to the original owners, some of them of them will be as dangerous to smuggle as any drug—you may use whatever methods you wish. Certain…promises and contracts…prevent me from moving south of the Equator.”

“And in exchange?”

“I can address various difficulties in this country for you at a high level. For example this zealous Mayor in Miami causing trouble for your organization—his resolve, and the resolve of his prosecutor…they will falter. Before the end of the week. And, of course, should we come to an agreement, your men here who should have prevented me—or anyone—from entering your suite, they will awake.”

Don Membreño drank his scotch, considered the pale Spaniard’s offer, and listened uncomfortably to his men moaning in their sleep.

See also: Host Section—Building A Horror Investigation: Some Adventure Formats—My First Conspiracy, Library—Horrors—Necromancer, Library-Horrors-Deathless One, Library—Horrors—Cursed Artifact, Tables—Crime Lord Schemes, Tables—Cultist Schemes, Tables—Organized Criminals, Tables—Interpersonal Conflict

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Sunday, June 24, 2018


for Demon City, inspired by Daniel Halderman

It is not known on behalf of whom the communicants communicate. They are only definitely one thing: not a horror.

They communicate wisdom concerning weighty matters, they communicate to only to one person at a time (only to lone individuals), and they communicate only in a fashion where the ultimate source of the wisdom cannot be known. A communicant might be the last drunk on the subway home, a waitress with an enigmatic anecdote, a dream, a fortune cookie, a fortune teller.

They may also provide oblique aid. The aid will be provided in such a fashion that it is not obvious that it is aid—and may not be aid to the PC but to some other innocent. A communicant Uber driver might “accidentally” drop you exactly where you need to be to witness a murder that might otherwise go unavenged. They will be gone as soon as you realize you’re at the wrong address, and the company will have no record of the driver. 

A communicant will only provide information or aid impossible to otherwise acquire by any means—they will not, for example, provide a name that might’ve been provided had a party members not failed a skill check or reveal a secret file the PCs overlooked the first time they checked. Their medium is coincidence—the Host should build their enigmatic but helpful interference into the structure of the scenario from the start as an initial condition (though it may be introduced at any time), not use it after the fact to compensate for some failure on the players’ part. Communicants may: help the initial crime be discovered, drop a piece of evidence into the party’s laps with an unclear connection to the crime (figuring out the connection is the real mystery), deliver a message from the dead (like the ghost of Hamlet’s father does), etc.

They act subtly, and then disappear forever.

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Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Relevant Retropost: Distracted From Distraction By Distraction

...that's a line from TS Eliot. He was a well-educated creative genius and a grotesque anti-Semite, back in the days when that combination was still possible. It no longer is--so we'll have to listen to someone else if we want any insight into the job creative people have in times like these. Here's Toni Morrison, talking at Portland State University. She has just finished reading off some racist quotes from eminent Americans:
Nobody really thought that Black people were inferior. Not Benjamin Franklin, not Mr. Byrd, and not Theodore Roosevelt. They only hoped that they would behave that way. They only hoped that Black people would hear coon songs, disparaging things, and would weep or kill or resign, or become one. They never thought Black people were lazy—ever. Not only because they did all the work. But they certainly hoped that they would never try to fulfill their ambitions. 
And they never, ever thought we were inhuman. You don’t give your children over to the care of people whom you believe to be inhuman, for your children are all the immortality you can expect. Your children are the reason that you work or plot or steal, and racists were never afraid of sexual power or switchblades. They were only and simply and now interested in acquisition of wealth and the status quo of the poor. Everybody knows that if the price is high enough, the racist will give you anything you want.  
It’s important, therefore, to know who the real enemy is, and to know the function, the very serious function of racism, which is distraction. It keeps you from doing your work. It keeps you explaining over and over again, your reason for being. Somebody says you have no language and so you spend 20 years proving that you do. Somebody says your head isn’t shaped properly so you have scientists working on the fact that it is. Somebody says that you have no art so you dredge that up. Somebody says that you have no kingdoms and so you dredge that up. 
None of that is necessary. 
There will always be one more thing. The strategy is no different than bombing Cambodia to keep the Northern Vietnamese from making their big push. And since not history, not anthropology, not social sciences seem capable in a strong and consistent way to grapple with that problem, it may very well be left to the artists to do it.
For art focuses on the single grain of rice, the tree-shaped scar, and the names of people, not only the number that arrived. And to the artist one can only say, not to be confused, [sigh] not to be confused. You don’t waste your energy fighting the fever; you must only fight the disease. And the disease is not racism. It is greed and the struggle for power. [Audience member murmurs in agreement]
I think of this a lot: "...the very serious function of racism, which is distraction. It keeps you from doing your work." I am going to go ahead and make the leap that this applies to a wide variety of prejudices.

The Braindead Megaphone

Another novelist, George Saunders, describes a similar situation in his essay The Braindead Megaphone:
Imagine a party. The guests, from all walks of life, are not negligible. They’ve been around: they’ve lived, suffered, own businesses, have real areas of expertise. They’re talking about things that interest them, giving and taking subtle correction. Certain submerged concerns are coming to the surface and — surprise, pleasant surprise — being confirmed and seconded and assuaged by other people who’ve been feeling the same way. 
Then a guy walks in with a megaphone. He’s not the smartest person at the party, or the most experienced, or the most articulate. 
But he’s got that megaphone. 
Say he starts talking about how much he loves early mornings in spring. What happens? Well, people turn to listen. It would be hard not to. It’s only polite. And soon, in their small groups, the guests may find themselves talking about early spring mornings. Or, more correctly, about the validity of Megaphone Guy’s ideas about early spring mornings. Some are agreeing with him, some disagreeing — but because he’s so loud, their conversations will begin to react to what he’s saying. As he changes topics, so do they. 
....In time, Megaphone Guy will ruin the party. The guests will stop believing in their value as guests, and come to see their main role as reactors-to-the-Guy. They’ll stop doing what guests are supposed to do: keep the conversation going per their own interests and concerns.
Both the villain and the victims are more broadly defined but again the point of the weapon is the same--distraction: "The guests will stop believing in their value as guests, and come to see their main role as reactors-to-the-Guy." The Megaphone--like Morrison's racist--keeps you responding to the distractor's concerns, rather than building things that respond to your own.

Extremely Important and Massively Uncomplicated

When considering the social issues outside our gameworlds in 2017 we see a series of problems that frustratingly combine the following two qualities: they are extremely important and massively uncomplicated. Should black people be shot by police? No. Should trans people be able to go to the bathroom? Yes. Are illegal immigrants a major threat to our country? No. Should gay people be allowed to marry? Yes.

The only reason the country's discussing these things is the Megaphone. There are adults who think that, like, Black Lives Matter is a terrorist organization but they're not intelligent or reachable via games or anything else predictable. These are open-and-shut-cases.

Important but not complicated. Artists and critics--especially in the sphere of games--are not used to thinking with this category. We are used to thinking that the artist who tackles the Real World Issue is doing something deep and difficult. But in reality, the designer or GM who goes "Ok, stop trying to figure out how to beat Tomb of Horrors and consider this: what if orcs are just like you and me and like colonialism is bad?" is lowering the tone of the conversation. They are asking us to stop a complex problem-solving exercise that might actually be helping us sprout neurons we could use later for some practical purpose and instead think about something intelligent people in 2017 cannot possibly disagree on: colonial genocide is bad and orcs are fictional things with no moral reality and if you're a grown ass human who acts racist because they played a game (or drank a beer or lost a bet) the problem isn't games it's you being so impressionable.

What makes social problems thorny for the kind of people that are actually going to read your blog or play your game isn't that they don't know racism or sexism or any other -ism is bad--it's that, as Morrison says above, greed and the struggle for power make people compromise their principles--or refuse to formulate them well enough to know they're violating them. I know several indie gamers who have admitted privately that they are scared to speak out against the abusers in their community for purely financial reasons--or because they know the price of speaking out is the abusers will turn on them. It's the worst version of professionalism.

Saunders continues:
We’ve said Megaphone Guy isn’t the smartest, or most articulate, or most experienced person at the party — but what if the situation is even worse than this? 
Let’s say he hasn’t carefully considered the things he’s saying. He’s basically just blurting things out. And even with the megaphone, he has to shout a little to be heard, which limits the complexity of what he can say. Because he feels he has to be entertaining, he jumps from topic to topic, favoring the conceptual-general (“We’re eating more cheese cubes — and loving it!”), the anxiety-or controversy-provoking (“Wine running out due to shadowy conspiracy?”), the gossipy (“Quickie rumored in south bathroom!”), and the trivial (“Which quadrant of the party room do YOU prefer?”). 
We consider speech to be the result of thought (we have a thought, then select a sentence with which to express it), but thought also results from speech (as we grope, in words, toward meaning, we discover what we think). This yammering guy has, by forcibly putting his restricted language into the heads of the guests, affected the quality and coloration of the thoughts going on in there. 
He has, in effect, put an intelligence-ceiling on the party
We've seen this everyone-must-talk-about-something-stupid dynamic several times coming from inside games: GNS, chainmail bikini prudery, edition-warring, etc. but now there's a new dynamic at work--the mainstream press is noticing D&D.

And--as any freelancer is going to tell you--the articles about RPGs are not going to be well-paid or with long enough deadlines to produce new research. And they are going to be occupied with that thin slice of the Venn diagram where the game-relevant overlaps with general public interest--and the writers will be under tremendous pressure to be...entertaining, conceptual-general, anxiety or controversy-provoking, gossipy, trivial.

Saunders sums up: There is, in other words, a cost to dopey communication, even if that dopey communication is innocently intended.

Educating the Conqueror is Not Our Business

After her speech, Toni Morrison got questions--and they illuminate how having to deal with The Megaphone impacts art and artists:

I love Latin American literature and Russian literature. It never occurred to me that Dostoyevsky was supposed to explain something to me. [Audience chuckles] He’s talking to other Russians about very specific things. But it says something very important to me, and was an enormous education for me. 

When Black writers write, they should write for me. There is very little literature that’s really like that, Black literature. I don’t mean that it wasn’t necessary to have the other kind. Richard Wright is not talking to me. Or even you. He’s talking to some White people. He’s explaining something to them. LeRoy Jones in the Dutchman is not talking to me. He’s talking to some White people. He’s explaining something to them. It may have been very necessary. It certainly was well done. But it wasn’t about me and it wasn’t to me. And I know when they’re talking just past my ear, when they’re explaining something, justifying something, just defining something. [Glass thunks.]

But when that’s no longer necessary, and you write for all those people in the book who don’t even pick up the book—those are the people who make it authentic, those are the people who justify it, those are the people you have to please, all those non-readers, all those people in Sula who (a) don’t exist and (b) if they did wouldn’t buy it anyway. But they are the ones to whom one speaks. Not to the New York Times; not to the editors; not to any distant media; not to anything. It is a very private thing. They are the ones who say “Yeah, uh huh, that’s right.” 

And when that happens, very strangely, or rather, very naturally, what also happens is that you speak to everybody. And even though it begins as inward and private, and gets its own juices from itself, the end result is it’s communication with the world at large....

[Another question]

So the question is “What do you do…?” Well, educating the conqueror is not our business. Really. But if it is, if it were, if it was important to do that, the best thing to do is not to explain anything to him, but to make ourselves strong, to keep ourselves strong.

Sad Unicorns

In times when the worst ideas are popular, when, as Yeats said...The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere / The ceremony of innocence is drowned/The best lack all conviction, while the worst /Are full of passionate intensity there is a pressure on creative people to use their platforms to point out the worst-ness of these ideas. To make their art this:
...but what Sad Unicorn games and the sloganeering that they encourage do is simply allow a degraded culture outside the conversation you're trying to have create a degraded culture inside the work.

You can't do that because (among other things) it doesn't work. When the world is dumb, you don't dumb-down, you smarten up.

You do not go "Well we have to put off the nuanced conversation til later". You do not go "Well this may be valuable but this isn't the time or context for that work". You do not surrender to the Megaphone.

You create a more sophisticated thing--you create an internal conversation that is meaningful to you and to good people, and the internal energy of that will pay off when it's needed, "even though it begins as inward and private, and gets its own juices from itself, the end result is it’s communication with the world at large" because you will have made yourselves and your people strong.
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Monday, June 4, 2018

The 1600s, Lamentations and the Nympharium

It's an irony--or maybe just an incongruity--that, though Lamentations of the Flame Princess and I have had a long and mutually-beneficial RPG-publishing relationship, LotFP is officially set in the 17th Century and like none of my ideas are 17th Century ideas. We usually fudge it a little and compromise somewhere, or work in a way to get from canonical LotFP land to the Vornwelt.

The project I'm working on now--tentatively titled "Violence In The Nympharium"--for LotFP  has me looking pretty hard at the 17th Century because it involves a lot of locations and time travel as a basic element. It's going to be impossible to do without actually paying attention, much as I do hate paying attention.

So the basic thing is: wtf is the 17th century?

Well, basically: pirates.

That is, it's the golden age of piracy and most other members of the adventuring class (like musketeers) look kind of piratey--at least in Europe. Even on land people had big feathers on their hats and skinny swords. Boats looked cool, including galleons and the sleek, triangular-rigged xebecs. 

The visual artists were getting as good at getting materials to do what they wanted as they ever would be, it was the Baroque era: Velasquez, Vermeer, Willem Kalf, Bernini, Finelli, Rembrandt.  The British, as always, were a little behind in painting...

...but they did have the tail end of Shakespeare and then Milton writing Paradise Lost.

Louis XIV was in France being as fancy as fancy has ever been, tumblr fave Julie d'Aubigny was being about as badass a bisexual opera singer/duellist/nunfucker/arsonist as you could ever ask for, and most of the famous occultists are French. The Lesser Key of Solomon--the most well-known grimoire--is compiled.
Western Europe is as Europey as it is ever going to get right now. Go back much further and its barbarism and armor and nobody even wears wigs, go forward and suddenly people start being impressed by the industriousness of Americans and having real pants.

The big downside is the whole Reformation thing which makes reading history around this time really really boring. Like you get ahold of something that sounds pretty exciting like The Defenestration of Prague and look it up and it's Catholic this and Protestant that and before you know it you're asleep between your Norman Davies and your Geoffrey Parker.

In India style was--so far as I can tell--within a stone's throw of the extremely stylish late medieval as exemplified in the paintings of Bihzad. You could still see war elephants, which is dope, plus a lot of bright fabrics, baggy pants, and pointy shoes. The thugee cult of assassins still roamed the land, though, contra Indiana Jones, not in sinister matching robes -sadface-.

Likewise looking sharp were North Africa and much of the Islamic world. The Ottoman turks were near the maximum extent of their power with very big turbans. They probably have the most D&Dable architecture around now, with lots of Islamic cultures producing big flat-sided, ornate stone buildings with a lot of geometry and niches and taking up a lot of space (as opposed to Europe where--under the appalling influence of humanism--even the grandest public buildings have largely abandoned otherworldly monumentality to take on the fluted, pointy-roofed, comfortably-grooved appearance we play games to not have to think about).

Parts of northern Africa--like Coptic Ethiopia--are still operating out of cool medieval buildings, like castles and stuff.

Japan is perfect right about now: the Tokugawa shogunate has just begun, samurai are everywhere and there's still ninjas. (The big ninja book was written during this period.) Also Japan had English, Spanish and Portuguese traders reporting back home.

In southeast asia they're in the very early stages of colonialism, and the locals are still building mindblowing temples and palaces.

In Russia there's a lot of peasant riots and sashes and funny fur hats and a "Time of Troubles". So kind of the usual.

The non-Muslim, non-Christian parts of Africa are very poorly recorded around this time and in many kingdoms the 17th century still counts as "legendary". This is after the fall of the city of Great Zimbabwe which means something like "big stone house" and would have been eminently dungeonable (sigh) but there are sites like Kami which are like little Zimbabwes. A lot of guesswork surrounds what people there might've worn, lived in, or killed each other with in these areas and a lot of sources seem to just throw up their hands when it comes to magic and folk beliefs due to the wide variety. The most interesting and non-boring-stereotype-reinforcing path seems to be looking at current belief and working back off that. So like digging out the Robert Farris Thompson again.

China has kind of the opposite problem: so much history I have real trouble keeping it straight. We are in the Ming-Qing transition, but the general rule with China seems to be (1) if you can kill someone with it they've tried it from rockets to trained cheetahs and (2) all previous eras of Chinese history exist in China at all times.

The Americas have a lot of feathers and pilgrim hats going on and can fuck off. I'm not doing it and Australia seems to be mostly Dutch people poking at it while native Australians ignore or kill them. 

Experience tells me that lots of people who read this blog are hard-eyed library-devouring history types with actual degrees to whom this will all seem very basic, but if you're reading and can think of some book, resource or image that makes some underappreciated part of the 17th C seem interesting, we're all ears.