Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Al Qadim - Arabian Role Playing Part 1

There are now four different Dungeons and Dragons campaigns going on amongst my circle of friend, one being run by someone who only started playing this year. I don't think I ever would have believed that I would someday complain about there being too many D&D games to play and yet that is now the case. Further, they're all different and all pretty exciting. I felt like it was time to try a new setting just so that my campaign could seem a little different. My wife also suggested that a game with more exploring and role playing and less hacking might be a good idea. With that in mind I picked up some copies of the main books for the Al Qadim campaign.

Al Qadim was the dungeons and dragons middle eastern setting. It was released in 1992 and saw some success before being discontinued as per the publisher's original plan. I picked up the main rulebook Arabian Adventures as well as a boxed set called Al Qadim: Land of Fate. For today's entry let's talk about Arabian Adventures.

Arabian Adventures (AA) is a well designed book. It's softcover with a fabulous illustration on the cover of a man on horseback being menaced by a djinn of some sort. This is only one of a dozen or so evocative colour illustrations the book provides. Some art in D&D is fair, some is ghastly, and the material in AA is just perfect- each one suggesting some interesting adventure that you might want to be a part of and each one really true to the original source material. Except with some dragons added. To be sure there are some black and white illustration in AA that are fair but the overall work is terrific.

Once you get past the pictures the AA book has a lot to offer. You get brief background material on the lifestyles of the people of Zakhara (the D&D middle east). This section is scanty and deliberately so but it introduces concepts such as social standing, how the citizens interact, and the roles of family and honor. I enjoyed this section and it did help to establish the game's setting.

The book follows with character generation rules based on second edition D&D. I was pretty disappointed with this section. While the rules introduce twenty character classes the majority seem either boring or potentially exciting but with boring special abilities. I think this is why I don't play second edition at all and probably my dismissal of this section is less a critique of the book and more a critique of second edition itself.

Happily the rest of the material is interesting and useful. There are lists of equipment and Arabian themed weapons. There are new rules that apply to adventures in the setting, rules regarding armour use in the heat, the "evil eye," social standing and so on. I personally love the idea of making armour too hot to wear routinely. In this setting fighters are still best for melee but they're less likely to stomp around encased in enchanted mithril plate mail. A thief with a ring of protection might be equally safe as a fighter in chain mail, although certainly less able to shrug off multiple blows. I suspect games of Al Qadim will include far more thieves, monks, and illusionists than I'm used to seeing.

The AA book winds up with new spells for an Arabian setting. Some of these are pretty weak or specialized for survival in the sands. I suspect that first level players are still going to memorize color spray or magic missile but as a magic user's spells expand they may wish to choose "wind compass" or "fire truth" (detect lies by means of the motion of a nearby flame).

I plan on using the AA material and ignoring the new classes. The cultural notes are interesting, the campaign setting is exciting, and the colour illustrations just terrific. I think we'll be doing more chats with djinn, more lock picking and swinging from ropes, and more planning before combat. I would absolutely recommend this book as a great campaign setting for D&D, and perhaps a better one than most for the kids.

Next, lets talk about the Land of Fate boxed set!


  1. Sounds like Al Qadim rates a closer look than I originally thought. Thanks for taking the leap on this one.

  2. I think it does. It's not as wildly creative as Dark Sun and it has it's second edition issues, but at heart it's a very workable campaign setting and one that seems to promise a certain style of play that I like.