Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Destiny Disrupted

As usual when reading historical works, I find my thoughts turning to gaming.  The current source of inspiration of Destiny Disrupted: A History of the World Through Islamic Eyes by Tamim Ansari.  Some notes so far:
  • Ansari argues that "the Western World" is civilization as arose around Mediterranean trade, while "the Middle World" (Arabia to India, Persia, and the 'stans) grew up primarily around land trade routes, with the intersection on the eastern edge of the Mediterranean being a perennial area of cultural exchange and conflict.  This is interesting from the ACKS perspective, where the prototypical Auran campaign world (and a number of other campaign worlds, like my own Shieldlands and Omer's Barbarian Conqueror King) are built around the Mediterranean model.  It might be worthwhile to roll an ACKS setting along more Middle-World land-trade lines.
  • Lots of good place-names to steal that my players have probably never heard of.
  • It's sort of sad how quickly Islam went downhill (in terms of charitable / egalitarian social virtue and unity of the umma) after the first two caliphs.  Power corrupts, so it goes.
  • The manner in which Medina and the bedouin tribes were united under Muhammed and Abu Bakr is interesting - there existed political factions, and the early leaders of Islam unified them.  These coalitions were then threatened by the death of Muhammed and the resulting Wars of Apostasy.  This ties into some thoughts on poltical deficiencies in the ACKS domain game I've had recently - I think I want a system where the resources present in a domain are more-or-less static, and there exist factions with some form of power (military, economic, moral authority over the masses, whatever) who contend for the resources in that domain.  Players then attempt to either gain influence over existing factions (befriending their leaders or membership, doing favors) to gain their resources and allegiance, or destroy them through intrigue or fire and sword and replace them with personal factions (extended henchtrees) of their own construction.  Uniting existing factions is a quick and convenient way to streamline your domain, make management less of a hassle, and extend your capabilities out onto larger scales (ie, a coalition of county-grade factions might be able to operate as a duchy-scale faction if unified).  But, as is apparent, I have yet to flesh out a system for this.
  • The divide between the Mu'tazili rationalists and the conservative ulama (religious scholars responsible for generating, verifying, and clarifying religious law) during the Abassid caliphate is fairly interesting, particularly the way the Abassids allied with the Mu'tazili first (seeking to escape the power of the ulama) and then ended up yielding to the ulama's moral authority over the general populace.  Not unlike the attempts by Western monarchy to break the power of the church, but less effective.  Another good example of the Factional Domain Game in historical action.
  • There's an interesting note in the section on the Crusades: "Usamah idn Muqidh described the Franks as being like 'beasts, superior in courage and fighting ardor, but in nothing else, just as animals are superior in strength and aggression.'"  Combine with reports of Crusader cannibalism (it turns out that supplying your sieges in deserts is hard) and the sack of Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade, and an amusing inversion comes to mind; what if one were to cast the orcs not as the Germanic barbarians invading Rome, but as the Frankish (or "Franj") barbarians invading the Middle East?
  • Looking back at the original assassins, we see an organization much more interested in causing political strife / preventing unification / propagating fear than in making money.  I would like to see ACKS' assassin guilds operate similarly.
  • As bad as the assassins and the Crusaders were, the Mongols did a very effective job of Chaotic/Evil.  Particularly notable were the utter destruction of a city whose original name is lost and which is now known only as Shahr-i-Gholghola ("the city of screams"), the breaking of the assassins after an attempt was made against Hulagu Khan, pretty much everything Tamerlane ever did, and this aside regarding the sack of Baghdad in 1258:
The Mongols had a proscription against shedding royal blood; it ran against their traditions...  So they wrapped the [Abassid] khalifa and members of his family in carpets and kicked them to death.
Anyway, good inspiration, and I'm still less than halfway through (though I expect things will get a bit more modern, hence less useful for RPGs and more useful for wargaming, shortly).

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