Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Expressionism, Realism/Unnaturalism, and Hyper-realism/Hyper-unrealism

I want to draw a distinction between three different approaches to fantasy art: what I will refer to as "expressionism", "realism", and "hyper-realism". In reality, of course, everything is on a spectrum between those three points of the triangle, I know, but any taxonomy of anything will elide very fine differences and that's the nature of categorisation, so fuck you.

Let's begin with expressionism. I use this term not like an art critic but like a lay person interested in art. Expressionism is an approach to art which does not attempt to reflect any sort of seen reality directly in the photorealistic sense, but to express mood and emotion visually. In the context of fantasy art, it means art which does not seek to produce an image which would persuade you it is really real or could be a real thing in some fantasy world. Rather it means art which evokes the quality of a fantastical thing in pictoral form.

Hence, some examples:

"Crossing the Vimur River", by Hellanim (https://hellanim.deviantart.com/art/Crossing-the-Vimur-river-348494026)

"The Old Saints, VIII" by Valin Mattheis (http://strange-gods.tumblr.com/)

"The Ichthyosaur's Pool", an illo Matthew Adams did for Issue #1 of The Peridot

Next comes realism, or the attempt to create actual pictoral representations of fantastical things in such a way that you could imagine them appearing to the naked eye if you were to actually see them. ("Realism" is a slightly unsatisfactory label because, of course, we are not talking about "real" things; maybe a better term would be "Unnaturalism"?) It does not have to be photorealist; it may be impressionistic in its brush strokes.

Some examples:

"Lancelot", by John Howe

"Scythe" by Jakub Rozalski (https://www.artstation.com/artwork/L3RPP)

"The North Watch" by Keith Parkinson

Finally, there is, I would suggest, a third category, which I refer to as "hyper-realism" (or, perhaps more appropriately for reasons alluded to above, "hyper-unrealism"). This is fantasy art which attempts to produce a version of a fantastical reality which is more vivid and exaggerated than the more prosaic "realism" of the second category, while being faithful enough to an imagined visual reality that it cannot be described as being "expressionistic" (unless by "expressionistic" you mean "evokes a sense of vividness and dynamism").

Some examples:

"Mirror Men's Judgement" by Rhineville

You know where this comes from.

And this.

I have nothing against hyper-realist art particularly, but I would suggest that there is a preponderance of it in RPG products and this trend has become more pronounced over time rather than less so. I can think of two reasons for this: 1) RPG art is strongly influenced by comic and, nowadays, video game art; 2) RPGs are about action and imagination and hyper-realist art is the natural bi-product of the interaction between those two impulses.

Challenge me and prove me wrong, or agree with me and praise me and my taxonomy to the heavens.

Saturday, 13 January 2018

Anak Wungsu and the Ziggurats in the Shallow Sea

Introduction

The Sumerians, Babylonians, Elamites and other ancient peoples of the fertile crescent spoke of a race of fish-men, who dwelt at the bottom of the Persian Gulf and rose to the surface as caprice dictated. Whenever they appeared, it was said, they would dispense dangerous wisdom to the peoples on the surface - the kind of wisdom that leads to civilization but also brings with it disease, war and enslavement.

These fish-men were first named in a human language by those young grand-nephews of the Naacals, the Sumerians, who called them the Oannes. Their existence was no myth. The Oannes were ancient astronauts, an alien race who originated in the cosmos but who had been dwelling on earth for aeons in cities they built in the pitiless frigid blackness of the oceanic depths.

In times past - before even the Naacals had risen to prominence, when the earth was stalked by giant mammalian beasts - these Oannes also built tombs and other monuments in the warm shallow seas near the coasts, all of black obsidian embedded in white sand and coral in azure waters lit by sunlight beaming through. The crocodile saw this, of course, on its wanderings. Black geometric nests or hives swarming with the activity of things that to its mind looked like fish, though fish of an altogether unusual type, with gracile hands and tentacles and fingers able to manipulate objects, and intelligent eyes. Their mythagos haunt its memory as scaly fish with many arms endlessly grasping, clasping and groping around them as they swim through clear warm waters around reefs of vivid coral in the Remembered Ocean of the crocodile's mind.

The Coming of the Naacals

The first Naacals who came to this region of the crocodile's memory were nomads, navigators and explorers fascinated by the possibilities offered by the infinite warm sea. But they were quickly followed by others - those with an interest in the locations of the cities of the Oannes in the real world. For, these Naacals reasoned, there might be some correspondence between the patterns of the locations of the huge black geometric shapes as they existed in the crocodile's memory, and the actual settlements or constructions of the real Oannes that have been lost for millennia in the world above. It might be, they thought, that one could survey this region of the crocodile's memory and use it as some kind of map or guide through which to locate the ruins of the vanished civilization of these alien visitors. Theorists, then, and cosmologists, but also treasure hunters; they remain there still, though many have lost their minds or forgotten their original purpose, and merely roam the seas in their automated vessels without aim or destination.

The Coming of Anak Wungsu

Anak Wungsu is a Balinese trader who, hit by a violent cyclone when sailing his ship, was forced off course and shipwrecked on the shores of Paradijs. More than half-dead and with nothing on his person, he was nursed to health by natives who found him naked and desperate, washed up on the beach. His commercially gifted mind soon realised that there were commodities in this new land waiting to be gathered and taken back to Bali and sold - and his eyes grew bright as he imagined the possibilities this new trading route could offer him. He set off into the interior where he came upon the Lady of the Lake and was told by her of the untold riches and treasures of the Naacals waiting to be discovered beyond the veil in the crocodile's mind. He passed behind it at once.

Anak Wungsu soon made his way to the ziggurats under the sea, as if sensing by instinct the traces of greed which the Naacal explorers and cartographers had left behind them on the surface of the water. Once there, he set about building the grandest vision he could hold in his mind's eye - a vast trading network spanning the ocean's floor and bringing with it untold wealth and commerce to its centre. Goods, commodities, treasure and produce flowing between and around the black undersea Oannes "hives" in endless streams of import and export and all with him in the middle.

Now all of the mythago Oannes "hives" team with the activity of trade as their inhabitants head out into the seas around to harvest resources they can truck, barter and exchange. All of them obsessively seeking the crucial comparative advantage over the others - or attempting through force and subterfuge to take control over sources of revenue. Every one of them a rival as much as a friend, aware in the abstract that trade benefits all, but as forgetful of it in practice as the humans participating in the spice trade in the Moluccas. An unending struggle for commercial domination that frequently spills into violence and which can never end except in a constant competition that can only accelerate in intensity and never diminish.

Thursday, 11 January 2018

When Yoon-Suin Meets Rifts

In the lobby of the Museum of Historical Interface, at the Brunswick Dock in Hibap'ȕ/Liverpool, there hangs a framed letter, printed on a material now known to be yak skin and written in the High Yellow City Trade Tongue. It is hidden behind a large reinforced glass case which prevents the public approaching closer than three yards, and has two permanent security guards stationed beside it for 24 hours a day. This is necessary to prevent its theft, many attempts at which having been foiled in the time it has been housed at the Museum. It is the only known replica on Our Side of the Rift of the infamous letter which the explorer Omswarop Chal sent to his master, the Grand Matriarch of the Ulele Clan, at her residence in the Wagtail Quarter, on returning from his first journey through the Rift, and hence its value is beyond priceless. The year 2018 represents the tri-centennial anniversary of the sending of that letter and Chal's first traversing of the Rift, and hence the first contact between Our Side and Theirs, and on January 12th the great-grandson of the Grand Matriarch will be in attendance paying a full state visit. Given that the matriarch of the Wimxhȁ clan and her extended family will also be present, it is the most important event expected to take place in Hibap'ȕ/Liverpool this century so far. [...]




The Case for the Small and Complex

It's a truism that the world is getting more complex in the digital age. In fact, the truth is the world is in many ways much simpler than it used to be, and that complexity tends towards simplicity over time, growing merely complicated rather than complex.

One of the best examples of this is language. Ancient languages are much harder to learn than their modern equivalents. Chinese characters, when they were first invented, were insanely complex, requiring dozens and dozens of brushstrokes. Now they require orders of magnitude fewer. Old English nouns had five cases, three genders, and could be categorised as strong or weak. Modern English nouns basically do not have cases or genders. Japanese used to have counting systems for literally hundreds of different objects (including many different species of fish); now Japanese linguists observe that the counting systems are collapsing into a mere handful.

This is also true at the granular level: five hundred years ago people living in Cumbria would not have understood people living in Cornwall because they spoke different languages. Now almost nobody speaks Cornish and the Cumbrian dialect is basically standard English with a funny accent and a few odd words. The linguistic landscape of the British Isles is becoming ever more uniform as minority languages die out and dialects merge and flatten. Multiply this by a million for the rest of the world.

Law is the same. Once England was a patchwork of, in effect, different legal systems, for different regions, different purposes, different disputes. Five small towns in Kent, the Cinque Ports, had their own entirely separate courts. So did the Church of England. Now there's uniformity. Again, multiply that a million for the rest of the world - and add the universalizing effects of international commercial law.

And consider politics. Read Herodotus and you get the impression that almost every square metre of the ancient world had its own ethnic group, city-state, language, unique culture and fiercely independent ruler. Thracians, Phrygians, Scythians, Lydians, Lycians, Paphlagonians, Pamphylians... Just think of modern day Turkey - one country with one main language and ethnicity and a few minority groups - and compare it to Anatolia in the age of classical antiquity and you will see how much the world has simplified geo-politically.

Why do I harp on about this at such length? For many reasons small, dense campaign maps are to be favoured, but you can add realism to that list of reasons. Small geographical areas packed with different cultures, legal systems, languages, religions and polities reflect what a pre-modern world would be like.


Tuesday, 9 January 2018

Appearing to do two things while really doing neither

Sodajerker recently released an interview with Noel Gallagher. I am not a huge Oasis or Noel Gallagher fan, but you couldn't escape his music when I was a teenager - it was basically the soundtrack to life in Britain between about 1994 and 1997 - so I was still fascinated to hear his views on the creative process. 

He used a nice metaphor to describe the old principle that creativity is all about putting in the hours: he likens it to fishing - you may not catch a fish by fishing in the river every day, but you absolutely have to go to the river if you are going to catch one. Creativity isn't magical; it's time and effort, mostly.   

But the really interesting throwaway revelation was that a lot of his songwriting is done by noodling round on a guitar while watching TV with the sound turned way down. As I think he puts it (I don't have a transcript), to the untrained eye he is playing guitar while watching the TV. But actually he is doing neither. He is in a kind of fugue or flow state, waiting for something to hit him. When it eventually does, that's when the work begins and the actual songwriting starts.

I would not want to compare myself to somebody like Noel Gallagher, but I was struck by this because it is exactly the same thing I usually do - the TV is on in the background and I have a notepad in front of me jotting things down. I'm not really paying attention to the TV, and not really thinking hard about what's on the notepad. Something about that brain state results in a kind of tuned-down, out-of-focus blue-sky thinking that occasionally causes gold to flow out of you, and if you pay just enough attention you can catch hold of a handful of it and then get to work shaping it into something. In other words, doing two things in a half-arsed fashion allows you do to a third thing - come up with ideas - amazingly well.

I don't have an explanation for this, except to suggest that perhaps something about watching TV keeps part of your brain sufficiently distracted that it stops editing out some other part of your brain which is responsible for your imagination. If it's true, it supports the idea that the brain is essentially modular and part of being successful is the quest to herd those different modules into behaving in the ways in which you want them to. It's as good an excuse I can come up with for watching Homes Under the Hammer repeats on the Home Channel at 9 o'clock at night.

Saturday, 6 January 2018

Uesugi Saburo's Slavers

A band of desperate, stinking, uncouth killers who roam wild and rural places searching for children to kidnap and sell into servitude down south. They are largely cowards but that does not stop them slitting throats in the night or kicking the weak and frail to death for sport. They are led by the exile Uesugi Saburo, once the third heir of the great and ancient Uesugi clan, cast out from his family for his wayward behaviour and long since sunk into debasement.

There are 18 of his comrades in total; major NPCs are:

The Onmyouji of Mount Kintake. A tall, thin purported soothsayer and wizard who in fact has no magical prowess - but is expert in chicanery and bluff. He wears a baggy purple kimono which conceals his many tricks and gadgets.

4th level Specialist, 16 hp, AC 12, AB +1, Weapons: Short sword (d6)
*Carries the following special equipment:
-6x smoke bomb (can be thrown after being set alight; explodes to cause a cloud of dense smoke of 6' radius to appear, lasting 6 turns and blocking the line of sight)
-6x gas bomb (as with the smoke bomb, but emits noxious gas that causes effects as a stinking cloud and does not block the line of sight)
-4x flash bangs (packages of powder concealed up the sleeves which can be produced with a flourish to cause loud bangs and bright flashes of light which deafen and daze anybody in a 6' arc in front of the Onmyouji who is not forewarned for d3 turns)
-4x "pharaoh's serpents" (a small package of white powder which, when lit and thrown on the floor, instantly produces a glowing "snake" of ash and billows of smoke which momentarily make it seem as though a large magical serpent has been summoned - until the onlooker realises it is not moving or otherwise inspects it closely)
-4x blazing batons (foot-long sticks coated in a chemical which burns intensely when lit and can be used to send signals, set light to flammable objects, or dazzle people [-4 to all dice rolls for d3 turns] by waving in front of their eyes from a distance of up to 12')

Little Kikuchio. A huge figure, thick and tall like a cedar, who wields a 5-foot long rice-pounding mallet in one hand like it is a fly swat. He speaks like one would imagine a tree to speak if it could: slow, deep, simple.

4th level Fighter, 32hp, AC 16 (cuirass and greaves), AB +5, Weapons: Rice-pounding mallet (1d12+4)
*His rice-pounding mallet cannot be wielded by anyone with a STR less than 16

Mame-san. A glum-looking man with an adolescent frame and wistful eyes whose disappointment with the world manifests itself in acts of extreme cruelty and violence.

4th level Specialist, 18hp, AC 14 (leather cuirass), AB +3, Weapons: Bow, knife
*He carries a copper amulet from an ancient Chinese kingdom, with the character for 'water' carved crudely into its surface; this allows the wearer to move instantly up or down a river up to a distance of 100 yards if he touches the water

The Lady. A failed maiko who has taken up with Saburo as his “crown consort”, though they are not officially married. She still wears the tattered regalia of a geisha, and often sings old songs she learned during her training – melancholy ditties about three things she rarely now enjoys: feasts, love, and beauty.

4th level Specialist, 15hp, AC 12, AB +2, Weapons: Naginata (1d6+2)
*She carries a pouch of makeup which, when worn, allow to her to make suggestions to any men who are attracted to women; these function as the spell and she can make a total of three to any one man

Uesugi Saburo. A tall man who was once handsome, but who wilderness exile has rendered thin, drawn, and unkempt. He has missing teeth and is balding, and his once fine aquiline nose is broken half way down. Nevertheless, he still carries his swords – ancient heirlooms which he polishes daily and loves more than anything else in the world.

5th level Fighter, 30hp, AC 18, AB +6, Weapons: Daishou (1d8 and 1d6)
*He carries a katana and wakizashi that were forged in the time of the Sengoku era by a master swordsmith and which he stole the night he was forced to leave his castle. When used together in daishou form the wielder suffers no penalty for fighting with two weapons because the swords are so well-balanced; the swords are also forged so finely that they can easily break or shatter lesser blades (there is a 1 in 6 chance an opponent in melee's weapon breaks each round of combat)

Ordinary members of the slaving band are 1st-level Fighters. Typical stats are as follows:

6hp, AC 16 (cuirass and greaves), AB +2, Weapons: Wakizashi or yari

Thursday, 4 January 2018

On High Level Warriors, Gods, Mortals and More

I read The Iliad for the first time over the Christmas break (the Penguin Classics prose version, for those of you familiar with it). I was expecting something that was going to be interesting but turgid and difficult; I'm not sure why I had that impression, because it's actually a rip-roaring page-turner of a yarn and I bloody loved it. I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised - if something has been raved about for 2,500 years it's probably a pretty safe bet it's worth a read - but still, it's amazingly fresh, vivid and exciting even to the modern reader. 

I thought about D&D a lot while I was reading it, because I think the case can quite easily be made that The Iliad is the most D&D thing ever written other than D&D itself (or, vice versa, that D&D is the most Iliad thing ever written other than The Iliad itself, except obviously Mazes & Minotaurs?). What is Achilleus, other than a 20th-level fighter in comparison to the 1st-4th level Trojans he dispatches with ruthless ease? What are the Achaean invaders, if not murderhobos in search of booty, glory and XP at the expense of all else? How else can the behaviour of the protagonists be explained, other than that they are being controlled by the kind of wild uber-machismo that often overtakes groups of teenage D&D nerds?

I jest, obviously - the culture that produced The Iliad utterly fascinates me and the beautiful complexity and dark brilliance of the narrative is done a hideous injustice by comparing it to a mere RPG, but still, bear with me. Four thoughts emerge:

1) I'm serious about the levels thing. Hektor, Paris, Achilleus, Agamemnon, Menelaos, Aias and so on make perfect sense when thought of as higher level warriors; they are more-or-less impervious to harm from ordinary mortals in only the way that a 9th+ level warrior facing 1 HD monsters can be. I'm surprised, indeed, that more has never been made of the depictions of high level fighters in D&D materials. A 12th-level fighter should be practically a demi-god, shrouded in mighty armour and bristling with magical weapons, like the member of a race of superheroes descended from Krypton, inspiring awe-like worship in his followers and utter terror in his enemies. In The Iliad, Hektor and Achilleus are forces of nature, able to sway a battle one way or the other with their mere presence and the effect it has on their enemies. D&D writers have never been ambitious enough in their descriptions of what being a high-level fighter entails - possibly because of a misplaced desire for realism when they should be dialing things up to 11. 

2) Gods in The Iliad have three different modes: squabbling together in Olympus, descending to earth to interact with humans (from shooting them with arrows like Apollo to guiding them around like Hermes), and, most interestingly and strangely, acting to possess them like Biblical evil spirits: Terror, Panic, Strife, and other emotions are not in fact mere emotions at all but actual persons, who stalk among men and infect them when the time is right - or at the behest of other gods. Clerical magic not as protective/healing spells, then, but rather as the ability to summon personified emotions to possess one's enemies or friends. Imagine if your cleric, instead of being a walking CLW factory, instead was able to call upon the god Panic to walk among that tribe of orcs bothering you and spread his power through them. The cleric as invoker and summoner of raw and terrible emotion. 

3) For all that the culture of Homer's Iliad is alien to the modern reader - harsh, violent, obsessed with honour, despising weakness, glorying in death - it is a very human text: it is emotions (pride, anger, love, hate, friendship, desire) which dominate and drive the narrative, not reason. The characters routinely ignore good advice when it is given, let stubbornness get the better of them time and again, and never, ever stop to think things through. Their passions overwhelm them in a way that is both exaggerated and also very true to how people actually run their lives.

What I find most interesting about the humans in the Iliad is that, for them, death is just something that happens. It was all around them: battle, disease, starvation, wild animals, floods, storms. One's own mortality was lurking nearby waiting to confront one at any given moment. Yet this did not lead these people to live their life like frightened rabbits hiding down holes, scared of danger. Quite the opposite: they threw themselves into their own lives, and deaths, with gay abandon, hunting their own mortality down, grabbing it by the neck, and throttling it.

In other words, it depicts humans as all passionate, over-emotional, and carefree - almost careless - with their own lives. Mortality doesn't breed fear; it breeds a devil-may-care perspective on physical danger.

The elf stands as counterpoint to this. If you were immortal, you would treat your life like a precious piece of porcelain and swathe it in yards of cotton, because death would mean missing out on thousands, nay, millions of years of experiences - you would want more than anything to be still around in a billion years' time to see how it all turns out. You would also, being jaded by age and the feeling of having seen everything before, probably view emotions with a heavy dose of skepticism. Why let temporary feelings perturb your carefully-worked out plans, your painstakingly-created work of art, your eons-long ponderings on the nature of your own navel?

4) Everything is Ancient Greeks. I knew that there was a longstanding legend, rumour or piece of propaganda which held that Britain was colonized by refugees from Troy. But, in reading around The Iliad, I also learned that the invading army of Achaeans mostly never made it home but were instead rumoured to have spread around Europe and founded its various civilizations. So you have this strange alternative history presented in which the conflict results in the emigration of Greeks and Trojans to all the far-flung corners of the known world, bringing with them the seeds of their culture and inevitably, one supposes, clashing with the locals. I can't be the only person who immediately starts thinking of campaign ideas: Achaean warriors ending up in ancient China or Japan, anyone? Trojan refugees in aboriginal Australia - no takers? Odysseus ends up sailing over the ocean and finds himself in pre-Maya Mexico, perchance? 

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Audience Participation: A Table Without a Title

I often send little notes to myself by text message as a kind of aide memoire, which would work a treat if I ever actually looked at them, but I always forget.

I was looking over the big list of text messages in this dialogue earlier on today. A lot of them are notes on reading which are now altogether mysterious to me ("p. 36 - 'To bring to light the conditions that had to be met for it to be possible to hold a discourse...that can be true or false according to the rules of law'"; "Chapter 6 - Curate's egg"); some of them are presumably things I saw in a bookshop and noted down to investigate later ("You are not a gadget - Lanier. The internet is not the answer - Keen."); some are more obvious ("Nappy wipes, milk, strawberries, orange juice, dinner"); some of them are notes lost in time and untethered to context ("Also Hayek and the common law"). One is I think the beginning of a novel idea: "The main character awakes from a dream and wonders whether it was a dream or a memory".

But plenty of them are for gaming. Here's one: "1 Lizard man, 2 Parrot man, 3 Human hunter, 4 Naked ape, 5 Marine iguana man, 6 Penguin thing".

Nothing else. No other related messages I can find. No associated memory.

So have at it. Do your worst. What it this a table of random results for?

Friday, 8 December 2017

Would You, Could You, on a Train?: Linear Dungeons

A linear dungeon is one in which there are, deliberately, no or very few options for lateral movement. The PCs either go forwards or backwards. 

One example would be a mile-high tower or skyscraper which the PCs ascend or descend. Each floor is a small level with a couple of rooms or, in the most high-concept version, a single room only. Instead of 10 dungeon levels each with an average of 30 or so chambers, you get 100 levels each with an average of three or so chambers - or 300 levels each with one chamber. 

Another would be an abandoned oil rig or mine shaft with the PCs simply going down, down, down, down, a very long and narrow hole. Periodically there are ledges where they get a chance to rest and fight ghost worms, sverfneblin, insane servitors, etc. 

A third idea is a train. Imagine a train made up of many carriages travelling through, say, the quasi-elemental plane of radiance on a vastly long track between two very distant places. You can't get out of the train because you will be blinded instantly. All you can do is move up and down the train, carriage by carriage. And in each one there is a different passenger. 

I find the possibilities of the long, narrow 'dungeon' intriguing. If the 'dungeon' is just train carriages or small floors of single/few rooms one after another, then you (of course) get to take advantage of a pattern. The DM can use, essentially, the same map over and over, with relatively minor changes. He just has to concentrate on content. The PCs, at the same time, also get used to the same patterns, so they can both forecast to a certain degree how things are going to look from level to level, but also be surprised when the DM throws them an occasional curve ball by mixing things up. 

The semi-linear dungeon is one which looks linear but where the PCs are able to advance (or retreat) in leaps and bounds by temporarily going outside it. Instead of descending the mile-high skyscraper floor by floor, sometimes they open a window and abseil down ten floors. Instead of moving carriage to carriage on the train, sometimes the PCs strap blindfolds over their eyes and try to clamber onto the roof and of the car they are in to make their way forward or backwards more expeditiously, and so on. 

Thursday, 7 December 2017

War as a Globalising Force

Google "war and globalisation" and you get billions of hits on the subject of whether globalisation causes war. You don't get many the other way around: the operationalising of globalisation through war. There is surely a book waiting to be written on this topic if it isn't out there already (and I would be surprised if it isn't).

By coincidence I am currently re-reading John Dower's Embracing Defeat at bed time and listening to Part II of Dan Carlin's "Kings of Kings" on my commutes, and both of them touch on this topic in fascinating ways. From Embracing Defeat (on the relationship between the Japanese Imperial House and the American occupying forces): 

"The imperial household...quickly [revealed] a genius for grasping the American's love of aristocratic pomp and pageantry. Invitations were regularly extended to high occupation officials to the court's genteel pastimes. Geisha parties became bonding places for the middling elites, but the upper-class activities to which high-ranking members of the occupation forces were invited were refined to a fault: firefly catching, cherry-blossom viewing on the palace grounds, bamboo-sprout hunts, traditional sword-fighting exhibitions at the palace, even an occasional wild boar hunt [...] While the media in the United States were chuckling and enthusing over the 'Americanization' of Japan, the Japanese were quietly and skillfully Japanizing the Americans."

The occupation, as Dower portrays it, may have been all manner of different things, but among them it was a globalising movement of quite unique power: over the course of the seven-year occupation more was done to Americanize Japanese culture than could have been done by a century of trade alone, and at the same time American elites became acculturated to Japan in a way they may never have really done otherwise. (Is it too much of a stretch to imagine that the lionization of Japanese business practices in the 60s-80s and the current obsession with Japanese pop culture around the world may have derived some of their potency from the fact that the most important global elite of all - American military and political leaders - were seduced so effectively by the emperor and his cronies in the late 1940s?)

Dan Carlin's description of the military campaigns of the Persian Empire are much more colourful, exotic and direct, and had me delving into Herodotus's Histories today over my lunch break. The Achaemenids ruled a territory so vast that they were able to conscript troops from lands ranging from sub-Saharan Africa to Afghanistan. Herodotus describes Persian armies of the era as comprising detachments of Sudanese warriors with their entire bodies painted half-white and half-red, "Black Ethiopians" from India who are thought by modern historians to have been Dravidians from the South of the sub-continent, tribesmen from the islands of the Red Sea, Colchians (from modern day Georgia) with wooden helmets, Chorasmians from the shores of the Aral Sea, and so on and so on almost endlessly - a veritable who's who of Eurasian geography. These peoples may have been loosely connected previously by trading networks spanning the continents, but what possibly could have been as expedient as war in bringing together representatives of all these disparate races, cultures and societies?

Think of the fantasy world equivalents. What different scattered exotic peoples might orcish empires bring together in unison? What might drow military campaigns do to shake up the cultural makeup of the Underdark? What random bands of mercenaries, deserters and routed wanderers from vastly distant places across the globe might be passing through the campaign map in the aftermath of a war? And how might a meeting with such people spark the imaginations of the PCs to get out there and do some travelling?