Thursday, July 2, 2009

Strange New Lands--and the Unexpected


Well, the gaming group decided to roll up additional characters, and lay the groundwork for a new, second campaign. I was surprised that after I reviewed the race and culture selections with them, that they largely chose to play some far-out characters, at least somewhat in a cultural sense. The second campaign for "Old School" AD&D is titled "Swords of the Dragon Sea", and is initially set in the southern region of the Tegheran Empire. The Tegheran Empire is a rough analog of an independent, magically powerful Egyptian Empire. The characters so far are all Tegherans, or otherwise from the Dragon Sea region, and the continent of Aghanda. Aghanda is a continent like Africa, though about 50% and larger in scale. Aghanda has civilizations that range in technological advancement from primitive Stone Age bands of hunter-gatherers and tribes of chieftain-led societies in the Bronze and Iron Age, to kingdoms at the medieval level of technology, as well as one large, sophisticated empire that is at the High Medieval level. The land is so vast, it provides some insight into why much of historical Africa was largely isolated from Europe, and why historical African societies advanced along very different scales than Europe.

The character choices serve to prove to myself at least, that a campaign does not need half-dragon/half-pixie centaurs to be exotic in the slightest! Human civilizations, with different magical and spiritual beliefs, different social systems, as well as different ethnicities, languages, cultures, technology levels, and geographical environments provide campaign ideas and settings that are entirely alien and very exotic! Which, of course, is all very exciting, and perhaps a little bit intimidating, to be sure. As the DM, I have had to review sections of notes made long ago, for areas of the campaign world that seldom gained much attention. I have quickly had to make thorough reviews, updates, and changes to fully prepare the region for a full-set campaign.

The Tegheran Empire is somewhat medieval in technology, though perhaps not as advanced in some areas as the Vallorean Empire, at the western end of the Dragon Sea. From a cultural perspective, the Tegheran Empire is radically different from the typical medieval European assumptions, and has much more in common culturally with the feel of Antiquity and the Ancient Mediterranean World. Virtually everything in Teghera is vastly different from what the players are typically accustomed to. In my initial review, a few things leaped to the forefront of my mind as to the different base assumptions and realities of the milieu. For starters:

(1) Distinctly Different Human Appearance: Everyone in the region is either some shade of brown, or black skinned. This is generally rather superficial of course, though nonetheless something of stark contrast for many players that are accustomed to most all humans encountered in the campaign to be generally like northern and western Europeans.

(2) Radically Different Climate: The temperatures are typically very *hot*--or, along the coastal regions, deliciously pleasant and balmy. Expeditions into the wilderness face very different and even lethal climatic environments, and supplies of water are crucial. The distinctly different climate of the region has a dramatic impact on fashion, attitudes, and so on, and generally necessitates a very different style of clothing and dress--in the sense that many people wear very little, and the type and style of clothing is also very different; loose, light, flowing material, and the extensive trade networks of the Tegheran Empire also provide a much greater diversity of such materials and a higher availability of finer, exotic fabrics, and unusual, vibrant colours. Culturally, public nudity in Teghera is quite acceptable, especially for men, and many women go about entirely bare-breasted, and often wear very little to conceal themselves.

(3) Distinct Religious Environment: The Tegheran Empire, like Ancient Egypt and the cultures of the Ancient Near East, embrace a very different religious pantheon, and also have in comparison to medieval Europe, a much greater degree of religious tolerance and acceptance of diverse religions and philosophies. (Certainly, of course, before the imposition and dominance of Islam). Generally speaking, I have adopted the feel of the Eastern Mediterranean World, roughly from 200 BCE to about the 5th Century CE, though without the cultural dominion of Hellenization. This period--as well as in centuries previous to it--saw an explosion of diverse religions, and the establishment and thriving success of numerous distinct official "state" religions, from the religion of the Greeks, to innumerable tribal and "barbarian" religions, mystery cults, Zoarastrianism, the Egyptian religion, as well as the different religions of the Phoenicians, Isrealites, Babylonians, and smaller civilizations, such as the Elamites, Ammonites, and the Philistines. Not to mention the various religions from Kush, Nubia, and Ethiopia. Thus, there is plenty of real-world historical inspiration to draw upon, as well as integrating several fantastic religious traditions and elements.

(4) Slavery Is Culturally Accepted: The institution of Slavery is everywhere, and common. The Tegheran Empire, like Ancient Egypt and the cultures of the Eastern Mediterranean World and the Near East practice slavery in diverse forms, and slavery is accepted everywhere. Slaves are of course treated differently depending on the local society, but also depending on *who* the slaves are, and *why* they are slaves. Slavery systems range from temporary slavery, say several years for debts, for example, to sophisticated slave-scholars captured in foreign cities, to enemy soldiers, civilians, and children captured in wars, as well as "barbarians", and other primitive peoples, and slaves from a neighboring culture or region that the enslaving society considers to be sophisticated, cultured and civilized. Each particular kind of slave may be treated very differently, and in many areas, possess specific rights and priveleges.

(5) Scale of Society: The scale of society as a whole is vastly different from the medieval mindset. The cultures in the region have not recently emerged from barbarism and darkness, but have often existed and been thriving and incredibly wealthy and advanced for hundreds, and sometimes thousands of years. The cities and urban settlements are often ancient, and huge, with enormous base populations, and of course, gigantic, awe-inspiring architecture, and ancient, colossal monuments. The urban populations can often easily be in the tens of thousands, and even hundreds of thousands, of people. Some cities may have populations of a million people or more. Armies, as well, can typically be in the tens of thousands, or even hundreds of thousands of troops. Economically, while there are often hordes and multitudes of urban poor, wealth in general is exotic, lavish, seemingly proliferous, and nearly everywhere by comparison to the average Western European milieu.

(6) Strange and Fantastic Animals and Creatures: In the Tegheran Empire, and neighboring regions, there are an entirely different range of animals and creatures than what is typically encountered in a Western European milieu. Elephants, hippopotomi, rhinoceri, apes, baboons, monkeys, giraffes, lions, leopards, innumerable snakes, lizards, huge crocodiles, as well as a diverse range of various herd-beasts, colorful birds, and hordes of exotic insects are all fairly common. That does not even begin to scratch the surface of potential fantastic and mythological monsters and creatures available for the milieu.

Thus, with some of these basic concepts and ideas as background material and inspiration, the second "Old School" AD&D campaign is taking shape! I hope that some of these thoughts prove to be helpful and inspirational to any of you as you set about developing new campaigns as well. It is an excellent reminder that the "Exotic" does not have to be uber-fantastic to be different, fun, and interesting!

Semper Fidelis,


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