Sunday, July 28, 2013

While We're Waiting...

Haven't been posting lately, as there was some intention of doing social media linking before I posted again. Not really up on that point, but I do have to say that I have gotten to detailing a little big of the town of Sharafkhaneh itself, the religions, and NPCs. The big cheese that I'm happy to be working on is a mega-dungeon!

Yes, you see, the current town of Sharafkhaneh is not the first one. It's a relatively recent development after the older settlement was razed about 80 years ago when the people revolted against the Ashari occupiers. Vengeance came swiftly and brutally, as the inhabitants were put to the sword, the town burned, and then buried. The survivors were then located closer to the River of Honor and the town built anew. A fort and a watchtower were built on the massive mound that composed old Sharafkhaneh. What was forgotten, overlooked, or deemed not worth the time to excavate was that the old town was thousands of years old, built up over the centuries on older iterations of Sharafkhaneh. As the years turned into decades, the old town was forgotten and the new one began to prosper.

Now, the captain of the guard, Juma, has a problem on his hands with the men stationed on Old Sharafkhaneh. Discipline breaks down within weeks of men being posted and now disturbing incidents of the soldiers turning against each other - fights, assaults, even murder have come to light with even the most solid, stalwart of warriors going mad. Whatever is underneath these fortifications stirs.

So, I'm working on that. :)

In the meantime, here's a link to a blog post from the Smithsonian on the thieves of Islam's Golden Age - the true thieves guild:

The Banu Sasan

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Dealing With the Real World

Working on an area that is analogous to a region in the real world certainly presents its problems for what's basically going to be a fun, loosely historical game for one of the world's most popular elf-simulators. The region that I've set Sharafkhaneh is very roughly based on the region of northwestern Iran/Armenia/Azerbaijian and eastern Turkey, around the real-world Lake Urmia and Lake Van. Here too lies sacred Mount Ararat (and according to legend, Noah's Ark), and further west is Gobekli Tepe, a 12,000 year-old set of monoliths built before humanity built their first cities.

Here too, lies real conflicts, real people, and real pain. Armenians vs. Turks, Armenians vs. Azeris, Persians vs. Turks, Persians vs. Greeks, Turks vs. Greeks, Arabs vs. Persians, Arabs vs. Turks, Kurds vs. Turks, and so forth and so on. This is a lot to take into consideration when you're trying to craft a setting that's really, really is for fun and games. That's a lot of very real Not Fun to have to take into consideration. What to do with that?

Fortunately, fantasy can provide a way through. This world is obviously analogous to ours but with crucial distinctions that anyone familiar with Advanced Dungeons & Dragons knows. Geographical locations can be changed, histories differ, human ethnicities are now replaced (or at least somewhat alleviated) with conflict against tribes of ogres, hobgoblins, and horrible tentacled things that lurk underground. Conflict adds spice to a role-playing game, but it is vital to avoid having all spice and no food (gods, I hope that analogy works). As I note that I have had some readers that may in fact have family or come from the lands that I am modeling, I offer this: I am in no way working to make light of your people, culture, or history. It is the same sort of cherry-picking that gamers have done for decades, originally with Western European history that has been distorted so much that it is now its own aesthetic, detached from their real-life analogues. I do invite my readers, if they are Greek, Turkish, Iranian, Armenian, Azeri, or anyone that I have missed to share and enlighten, point out legends that I don't know about, heroes and villains that can inspire conflict, OH! and anything with pictures, especially landscapes and food, food, food (because I loooooove food).

To sum: The lands of Al-Thughur is a blender for many of my nerdtastic passions to play through: the glories of the Byzantines and the Persian empires, both tragically overlooked and little known, the history of Islam and the legends of the Arabs. I am inspired by the beautiful landscapes of Anatolia, the Caucasus, and the Caspian, giving myself permission to move my Dungeons & Dragons games further from northern/western European pastiche further south and further east. The orientalist fantasies of Robert E. Howard, H.P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith get play here as well as contemporary author Saladin Ahmed and his fantastic Throne of the Crescent Moon.

I cannot ignore these creative impulses to work with what I love any longer.

A Larger Map of Al-Thughur

It would help to have a larger map of the campaign lands available as well!

Friday, July 5, 2013

Sharafkhaneh - The House of Honor

The campaign focuses on the district of Sharafkhaneh, close to the shores Lake Urmia, a large salt lake in a mountainous, hilly region. Once a land that was contested between the Aryani and Basilean Empires, it has now been part of the Great Caliphate of Asharaf for a century now. Sharafkhaneh, however, is much, much older than that and peopled by more than just the Aryani people and their Ashari conquerors. Many races have called the lands around Lake Urmia home for hundreds of thousands of years.

Humanity is the newcomer, having appeared in only the last 12 - 15,000 years, older than the human presence in any other land by far but still young from the point of view of the demihuman and non-human races that have also called Sharafkhaneh home. The children of gods and demons, the spawn of entities beyond this world, and horrific monstrosities that have never seen the light of day also dwell on, above, or below the hills and mighty ranges surrounding Sharafkhaneh. Legends tell that it was here that the first heroes of mankind imprisoned demons deep beneath the earth, and landed their ships after a mighty deluge swept the world clean of life. Ankidiru the World Conqueror, the first emperor, built a mighty tower to challenge the gods in the heavens - and lost. Iskander Godson swept over this land with his armies from the west, bringing knowledge and the destruction of the first empire of the Aryanis. The Legions of Empyrea marched here and built their fortresses and cities. Sometimes these structures stood and are still inhabited to this day. Others were destroyed by invading armies, whether human or otherwise, swallowed by the earth, cursed, or overrun by evil beings who swarmed from deep caverns.

It is this district that has come into the possession of Emir Khaled ibn Ajman al-Hajj of the Great Tribe of Ajman. Emir Khaled wants to enlarge his domain by putting the beasts that surround his lands to the sword and carry the war to the Basilean unbelievers. The call has gone out for the brave, the foolhardy, and the zealot to gather and continue the great struggle against the monstrous and the unbeliever (all the while enriching his noble coffers). Glory to those who can bring down the fortresses of the Basileans. All that stands between his lands and theirs are unending leagues of monster and bandit filled wilderness.

The snows are melting off of the peaks and the high passes. The akritoi sharpen their blades and prepare for battle, ready to die for their God. Will the ghazi heed the call?

Ghazis, Akritoi, Ogres, Genies, and Dragons - OH BOY!

And thus begins my great journey crafting a new sandbox setting utilizing AD&D 2nd Edition's Al-Qadim rules, but not the Zakhara setting. I had thought about it initially, but the setting as written doesn't have the conflicts and history that I want to introduce and I figured "hey, if I'm going to bother with writing that into a pre-existing setting, why don't I, I don't know, write my own?" And now here I am.

While the standard Middle-Eastern inspirations are there - One Thousand and One Nights, Ray Harryhausen films, folklore, and history, I'm also using more of my own favorites - Byzantine history, the conflict between the Caliphate and its foes from the aforementioned Byzantines to the Persians and the various sects within.

With that being said, I am also addressing some of the problems I've had when TSR presented Arabian Adventures and Oriental Adventures: they were just not Dungeons & Dragons enough. Where were the dungeons? Where were the dragons? Sure, a vishap or two appeared in some published module, but it wasn't enough for me. So much of the strangeness, the crazy mixes of fiction, folklore, history, and outright imagination are back in. Why wouldn't strange Lovecraftian horrors exist under a fantasy Middle East any more than a fantasy Europe? The Necronomicon was written by an Arab for fuck's sake!

There seemed to be a propensity in these products to introduce cultural prohibitions to keep players from playing the game as you normally would - reasons why characters wouldn't loot the dead and so on - ignoring the actual historical record that that is precisely what people did because human beings are human beings. So, away with that. Is is relevant to being a murder-hobo, killing people & critters and taking their stuff? No? Then away with it. Orcs, goblins, kobolds, and ogres embrace not-Islam and so now they're not at all antagonists that threaten human civilization? Away with it! They're still out there and they still hate humanity and its allies regardless of what foolish religion they believe in.

A region known as the Cradle of Civilization, with dozens of empires, some of the greatest that have ever existed, and barely a dungeon to be found in any of the published products? HELL NO. When the Middle East has some of the greatest ruins and subterranean cities known? It flies against all reason not to use those examples!

So what am I doing rather than not doing? An open campaign area, on the borderlands between the mighty Caliphate and the great empire of the unbelievers, a hundred years since the Believers poured out of their desert lands and overwhelmed the great kingdom of the Fire-worshipers. After the initial great invasions, the lands of Al-Thughur - The Clefts, borderlands claimed neither by the Caliphate or the Basilean Empire, or claimed by other humanoids or worse, and fortified by fortresses. The Basileans send their akritoi while in the Caliphate, companies of ghazi form to raid and gather plunder, whether it's a village, a fortress, or a monster lair. Sharafkhaneh focuses on one such place in the northern reaches of Al-Thughur...