Monday, March 2, 2020

Appendix Arabian Nights - AL-QADIM Zothique OSR Campaign Commentary

"Ride a magic carpet to a land of a thousand and one adventures! Visit spired cities, lush oases, and mysterious isles set in glittering seas. Meet sultans and sheikhs. See genies and giants. Discover a trove of new magical treasures!"

Hmm this Jeff Grub setting box set  seems strangely familiar?! Over the weekend I've been doing a ton of thinking about Clark Ashton Smith's Zothique and I've been doing quite a bit of over the weekend reading. My reading was focused on the Al- Qadim the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons second edition Arabian Nights focused setting for Forgotten Realms. Since it came out I've always placed the Al Qadim setting  in Greyhawk & yes I know that there are others doing so as well. 

But maybe I've been going about using this whole Arabian nights inspired campaign all wrong!? What if Al Qadim is actually an Earth millions of years in the future!? "Campaign Journal: Scimitars Against the Dark" (by Wolfgang BaurDragon magazine 198) Is both my inspiration & not exactly my source book here.  Zothique shares many of the qualities of Al Qadim but comes closer to the classic Ray Harryhausen's Sinbad series of films.

In Clark Ashton Smith's letter to 
 L. Sprague de Camp, dated November 3, 1953 we get Smith's own enfolding description of Zothique; "Clark Ashton Smith himself described the Zothique cycle in a letter to L. Sprague de Camp, dated November 3, 1953:

Zothique, vaguely suggested by Theosophic theories about past and future continents, is the last inhabited continent of earth. The continents of our present cycle have sunken, perhaps several times. Some have remained submerged; others have re-risen, partially, and re-arranged themselves. Zothique, as I conceive it, comprises Asia Minor, Arabia, Persia, India, parts of northern and eastern Africa, and much of the Indonesian archipelago. A new Australia exists somewhere to the south. To the west, there are only a few known islands, such as Naat, in which the black cannibals survive. To the north, are immense unexplored deserts; to the east, an immense unvoyaged sea. The peoples are mainly of Aryan or Semitic descent; but there is a negro kingdom (Ilcar) in the north-west; and scattered blacks are found throughout the other countries, mainly in palace-harems. In the southern islands survive vestiges of Indonesian or Malayan races. The science and machinery of our present civilization have long been forgotten, together with our present religions. But many gods are worshipped; and sorcery and demonism prevail again as in ancient days. Oars and sails alone are used by mariners. There are no fire-arms—only the bows, arrows, swords, javelins, etc. of antiquity. The chief language spoken (of which I have provided examples in an unpublished drama) is based on Indo-European roots and is highly inflected, like Sanskrit, Greek and Latin."
The wiki entry on Zothique goes a solid overview of the CAS's classic setting. But its the stories themselves that set the dreamlike  tone of the classic Weird Tales style series of stories.

The approximate location of the fictional continent of Zothique according to Clark Ashton Smith.
Map by Miihkali

So what is it about "Campaign Journal: Scimitars Against the Dark" (by Wolfgang BaurDragon magazine 198)? Well it goes through the following;
 This article gives tips how to create a dark, Ravenloft-flavored version of the Al-Qadim setting. But it also gives several character classes that can easily be adapted into a  Zothique campaign. But to really bring in the Harryhausen Sword & Sorcery 70's vibe  I strongly suggest backing into 
 Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea. 

Not only is this going to bring home the character classes but the rpg system is going to take things up several notches towards bringing in a far more 'PG' rated Zothique flavor. I would be remiss if I didn't bring in the fact that many of the Dreamlands cycle of H.P. Lovecraft's stories fit the same area of drift of CAS's Zothique.

So what is it about the  Al- Qadim the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons second edition box set that makes it indespensible for setting up an Al Qadim campaign?! Well besides the maps, character classes, commentary, monsters, dungeon ideas, & quality of the product line?! Well there's a certain something about the material. Al Qadim wasn't as shoe boxed as some of the other campaign box sets of the 2nd edition era. The DM had a ton of lattitude to make the setting his own. This wasn't something I found with other 2nd edition product lines such as Ravenloft. I'm  going to be diving further into this campaign course coming up in future blog entries.

Personally I think that the Al Qadim line was way ahead of its time in terms of content, ideas,material , & all of those glorious maps. Could this line be a perfect for CAS's Zothique?! I think so.  

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