East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

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Doing research on the Frontier on a 10 bucks budget

Of the 200-and-odd books I read over four years while working on Hope & Glory, India – A History, by John Keay was the first stop. I had tried approaching the textbook for my brother’s course on History and Civilization of India and the Far East, but found it too massive, and written in a language unknown to the living. Keay’s book was fun, well documented, and it was in a language I understood.
I had to start somewhere, and I started from there, and later I also read (and enjoyed) Keay’s book about the East India Company.

So now that I am doing a bit of in-depth background research for my work on the Frontier RPG, I decided to splurge on research books all of 10 euro: the price of a night out for a pizza at Casablanca’s, what passes for a night on the town here in our house.
And half of my budget went for John Keay’s China, a History – that is a lot heftier than its Indian counterpart, but hopefully just as fun.
Once again, my brother’s university books about Chinese history are there on the shelf, but what the heck, for starters I want something as user-friendly as possible.

I will also throw into the research pot another of Keay’s books that’s here on my shelf, his old but wonderful When Men and Mountains Meet: The Explorers of the Western Himalayas, 1820–75, because it’s certainly on topic.

The other half of my budget went for Abraham Eraly’s The Mughal Throne, that I had missed in my previous book haul when researching Hope & Glory.
Amazon Italy has a few copies of the Italian translation, by a very high-end “serious” publisher, discounted to half price because they are a little worse for wear.
This way, I got my copy for six bucks, including delivery, and the volume is perfectly fine (the white cover is a little dirty, but really, that’s not an issue for a reading copy).

Thus armed, I’ll spend the next four weeks reading and taking notes. So far I’ve played fast and loose with my Stories of the Frontier, but now it’s time to start doing things properly.
And as I often repeat, I like doing research.

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Karavansara Free Library: Arnold Wright (and Hope & Glory)

The Internet Archive is a treasure trove. Right now my browser informs me it is undergoing maintenance, but when it’s up (it should be up briefly), you can listen to Old Radio shows, you can peruse pulp magazines, and you can find a number of excellent resources for your writing and your games.

For instance, let’s consider the catalog of books by Arnold Wright, former journalist of the Times of India and then London editor of the Yorkshire post, who made a nice career for himself as an author of reference books about the East. Continue reading


Mapping India

As I think I mentioned I’m working on the last parts of the Hope & Glory handbook, and I’m checking out my resources and trying to turn two boxes of loose sheets, post-it notes and scrawled ideas into 45.000 words of highly playable gaming material.

Now, geography is important – and as the first Hope & Glory book will focus on the Anglo-Indian Raj, a good solid overview of the Indian sub-continent might be appreciated by the players.
And here’s the rub.

Selection_570Because Gordon Johnson’s Cultural Atlas of India is a wonderful read, but when it comes to the breakdown of the Indian sub continent into smaller chunks, of course uses the current political division – and it’s not just a matter of calling Uttar Pradesh what once was the United Provinces.
There’s lots of information in here, but it’s information about today’s India.
And what I need is India in 1850.
The best book I was able to find is the John Murray 1859 edition of A Handbook of India: being an account of the Three Presidencies and of the Overland Route; intended as a guide for Travelers, Officers and Civilians that is as lightweight, as amusing and as easily accessible as the title suggests. Continue reading


White Mughals and Others

Today I’m not well – a bad cold that doesn’t want to go. So despite the ten thousand things I need to do by the end of the month, I’ll write this post and then curl up under a thick blanket with a good book.

white_mughalsI am currently reading a great book by William Dalrymple, called White Mughals. The tag-line Love and betrayal in eighteenth century India might sound like this is some kind of bodice-ripper, but Dalrymple is a solid writer about Asia, and his is a very interesting study of British-Indian relationships in the 218th and early 19th century.

Focusing on the life of James Achilles Kirkpatrick, the man representing the East India Company in the Mughal court of Hydebarad, Dalrymple traces the evolution – or rather, the involution – of the relationship between two peoples, as the British shift from a general acceptance and integration of Indian attitudes and beliefs to an increasingly aloof and basically racist attitude. Continue reading

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Another online course

Thank goodness I’m not watching TV anymore.
I’ve moved my work station from my room back into the library room where it was supposed to be from the start.
Which means that either I’m at the PC writing or doing stuff, or in the kitchen cooking lunch or dinner, or out walking or doing some shopping.
The TV remains in my bedroom – where I’m either sleeping, or reading books.
I prefer books.

But cutting on the TV and living chained to the PC means I’ve got time and means to follow MOOCs – of which I’m a sort of addict. Continue reading