The Hidden Treasure of Bahadur Shah & Ultraviolet Grasslands Review

Last week, I wrapped up my five-part Babur series, but I still wanted to present a little coda to the Babur story: a tale of hidden treasure found by his son and successor, Humayun. Because this post is about half the length of what I usually shoot for, I also found the time to (finally) […]

The NPC Guest List at Babur’s Last, Greatest Party

This week we return for our final intriguing moment in the autobiography of Babur (1483-1530), the founder of the Mughal Empire in India. In 1528 he threw an enormous party with an astonishing cast of characters. Having all these people – all with their own reasons to love and hate one another – in the same place […]

Cotton Mather’s American Ghosts

The Puritan clergyman Cotton Mather (1663-1728) is one of the boogeymen of early American history. Among his many sins, he helped fuel the Salem witch trials that executed 20 people for witchcraft. In the trials he successfully argued that the contents of magical visions should be considered legally admissible evidence. Mather was a prolific writer. […]

Chasing Your Boss’ Mirror-Universe Twin Through Punjab

This week we return to another intriguing moment in the autobiography of Babur (1483-1530). He would go on to found the Mughal Empire in India, but at this point in his story he was mid-career: king of Kabul with his eyes on the stars. This post is going to be about a manhunt! It’s got […]

The Secret Peasant Book Club

In the countryside near 1500s Venice, most people were illiterate – but not all. A small number of literate peasants swapped books amongst themselves. Some of the books were forbidden. One miller was hauled before the Inquisition, not for reading banned books, but for developing his own theology from them that existed outside the bounds of Christianity. […]

NPCs from Christine de Pizan’s City of Ladies

Christine de Pizan was a 15th-century French feminist author. Her work The Book of the City of Ladies (~1405) is a full-throated defense of the spiritual and moral worth of women in a society that viewed them as base, lustful, and inferior. The largest part of the City of Ladies is a collection of short […]

Terrible Mountain Travels in 16th-Century Afghanistan

This week we return to another intriguing moment in the life of Babur (1483-1530). He would go on to found the Mughal Empire in India, but at this point in his story he was fleeing from Uzbekistan to Afghanistan. He would soon claim a new kingdom, then have to make a perilous mountain crossing in […]

Family Strife and Secret Language in the Fall of Gao

The Epic of Askia Muhammad recounts many important events in the history of the Songhai people of Niger and Mali. It’s a long song – it takes hours to sing – and it has sections in multiple languages. Among other stories, it tells the tale of a terrible turmoil in a Songhai noble family and how this […]

PCs on the Battlefield: Babur Waits in the Dark

This week we return to another intriguing moment in the life of Babur (1483-1530). He would go on to found the Mughal Empire in India, but at this point in his story he was in what’s today Uzbekistan. He was nineteen years old and a king without a country. He was about to get involved […]

Palace Intrigue with a Teenage King

The great conquerer Babur (1483-1530) is best known as the founder of the Mughal Empire in India, but he got his start a thousand miles away. He was born in what is today Uzbekistan, and at the age of eleven was thrust into the snake pit that was Central Asian geopolitics. His time as a […]

Professional NPCs from the Medieval Joke Book

Last month, we looked at some jokes from the earliest known printed joke book, the 15th-century Facetiae of Poggio Bracciolini. This month we return to the Facetiae for more late Medieval/early Renaissance Italian jokes, each of which has at its heart a character who makes a great professional or tradesman NPC. Some readers of last […]

Tangling With the Night Watch

Societies, especially cities, 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. One particularly gameable institution was the ‘night watch’. This system was found in a few […]

Lower-Class NPCs from the Medieval Joke Book

The earliest known printed joke book, the 15th-century Facetiae of Poggio Bracciolini, is a fabulous window into how this late Medieval/early Renaissance Italian saw his world. It’s also legitimately very funny. This week we’re going to look at seven jokes from the Facetiae, each of which has at its heart a character who makes a […]

Post-Pirate Politics in a Mughal Port

It was 1695 in Surat, a large seaport city in what is today northwest India and was at the time the Mughal Empire. Every year, ships from Surat sailed west across the Indian Ocean to the Red Sea. They carried goods to trade in Yemen and Muslim pilgrims on the hajj: the pilgrimage to Mecca […]

High Society NPCs from Aubrey’s Lives

Last month we looked at eleven bizarre scholarly NPCs from 1600s Britain, taken from a wonderful historical source: Aubrey’s Brief Lives. This week we return to the Lives for fourteen high-society NPCs, and – as before – we’re less interested in the real biographies of these people than in the gossip Aubrey reports about them. One […]