Language Windows Into the Vagrant Underworld

Since I was first exposed to D&D, I’ve thought it was neat that one of the languages you could be proficient in was “thieves’ cant,” a language for rogues. Real life and real languages are more complicated, but secret languages do exist, and they have been used in criminal activity. One such is Rotwelsch, a […]

The Uncertain Truth Behind Thugee

The word ‘thug’ arrived in English in the early 1800s to refer to a specific kind of bandit operating in India. The concept of ‘thugee’ (the practices of thugs) soon lodged itself in the Anglophone popular consciousness, spawning media like Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. But real-life thugee was very different from the […]

Retaking the Ship from Confederate Pirates

In July, 1861, the U.S. merchant sailing vessel S.J. Waring was seized by Confederate pirates. William Tillman, a black man and the ship’s cook and steward, learned the pirates intended to seize him too and sell him into slavery in the Confederacy. Tillman was not going to let that happen. He spent nine days quietly […]

Six Political Power Players from the Pangani Revolt

Last week we looked at a really complicated (and interesting!) revolt against the Zanzibar Sultanate in 1888 Pangani, Tanzania. The revolt featured three different factions: the independents, who wanted total separation from the Sultanate; the autonomy faction, which wanted to reduce Zanzibari authority over Pangani and restore the privileges of the local elites; and the […]

Pangani: A Pile of Conflicts Exploding in Revolt

In 1888, the Swahili coast of what is today Tanzania rose up in revolt against the Sultanate of Zanzibar, triggered by the arrogance of the sultan’s new German ‘friends’. The revolt was particularly memorable at the trading town of Pangani. But while German shortsightedness may have provided the instigating incident, Pangani had been moving towards […]

PCs on the (Failed Invasion) Battlefield and Coleridge’s Red Herring

In February of 1797, a small French military force landed in Wales. It was farce, easily rolled up by the British defenders. Participating in an invasion based on this one – either as an invader or a defender – is a surprisingly interesting RPG adventure hook! One of the weird events that followed the invasion also makes […]

The Chinese Legation to the Paris Commune

In 1870, the government of China had to send an emergency legation to Paris in response to an incident in a Chinese port. It was an unusual circumstance; this was only the third formal diplomatic mission sent by the Qing dynasty to the Western world. A translator with the 1870 mission, Zhang Deyi, had served […]

Empire City Thieves’ Tools

Thieves’ tools are an iconic piece of kit in RPGs. Their nature is often handwaved as “y’know, lockpicks and stuff”. When it doesn’t matter, that’s totally the right call. But specificity can prompt adventure! A specific tool, given as treasure to the PCs, can open new avenues for them. A novel tool hitting the streets […]

Families Turned Detective in Edo Japan

Societies have handled the enforcement of laws a lot of different ways in different places and times; the ubiquity of police in the 21st century can make it hard to imagine what other systems might even look like. The way the authorities tracked down suspects in Edo-era Japan (1603-1867) is particularly interesting. The system was […]

The Pettiest County Seat War in Frontier Indiana

Between 1811 and 1873, Wayne County, Indiana had three different capitals and six different courthouses. Each time the county seat moved, it was incredibly contentious, involved lots of guns, and one time a cannon. The stakes were high – these events led to one town’s irrelevance and another’s outright dissolution. Yet the stakes were also trivial. […]

By Order of General Ludd and His Luddites

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The Scandalous Memoirs of Regency England

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The Lavish High Society of 1888 Vienna

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Judah P. Benjamin

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The Feuding Goldmine Boomtown Choirs & Annual State of the Blog

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