Saturday, September 14, 2019

Ibn Fadlan is Not an Adventurer: XP Rules for Travelers and Diplomats

The world according to Ibn Sahl al Balkhi, 9th century

So, I've been reading Ibn Fadlan and the Land of Darkness again and thinking more about what an adventurer is exactly. Adventurers acquire things, that's how they level up in traditional D&D, but Ibn Fadlan starts with wealth and loses it. The basic pattern of the D&D adventuring life, starting with not much and working your way up, doesn't fit. Though Ibn Fadlan and Abu Hamid's accounts have been held up as great resources for RPGs, I haven't heard of any other attempts to make campaigns based on their journeys. This is probably because they just aren't adventurers. They are diplomats, travelers. They witness and negotiate and educate instead of taking, overcoming, and ruling.

I don't just want to run a game in a setting inspired by the sources in The Land of Darkness. I want players to act like Ibn Fadlan and Abu Hamid, to be driven to see things and meet people. To that end, I've written new xp rules for travelers instead of adventurers. The rules make a lot of assumptions about the party and their loyalties, but I think that goes hand in hand with the subject matter.

The Arrival of Ibn Fadlan in Bulgary, Urmanche Baky, 1973

To level up, the party must collect Marks equal to their current level + 1. When you level up, the party’s Marks are erased and you start again from zero.

You get Marks for 3 activities: finding wonders, uncovering information which is useful to the postal agency/intelligence service, and diplomacy.

Wonders: The world is full of wonders, aja’ib, mirabilia. Indeed, the stars themselves are wondrous, proof of the infinite variability and glory of the Lord’s creation. There is always a great thirst in court and in houses of learning to hear of new wonders from abroad. We live in age of reason, all wonders must be verified by proper methods. Each wonder found and verified is worth one Mark.

Places: Strange locations in the natural world or significant ruins left by antique civilizations. To verify your discovery, you must determine its exact position and relation to other landmarks using astronomical tools.

Examples: An island inhabited entirely by snakes, a huge dome of lead constructed by giants, an enchanted temple which no mortal can enter, a cave where ice turns to crystal, a sea of pure darkness

Creatures: Unusual or rare animals. To verify your find, you must be able to accurately measure the animal (preferably in cubits) and describe its features in detail from a living or dead specimen. Demons, the undead, and other abominations do not count as wonders. People are also not wonders.

Examples: Mundane animals of unusual size, a hypnotic lizard with crystal flesh, a furry rhino with a huge horn, chimeras of all sorts, huge oozes which blend into the water, ravens with iron talons

Phenomenon: Inexplicable and recurring events which dazzle the mind. To verify your discovery, you must witness the phenomenon thrice in full with your own eyes.

Examples: Armies of jinn who fight in the night sky, a river that turns bright blue when the moon is full, stone elephant tusks that grow in the earth, a huge fish that beaches itself to be eaten daily

Spying: These are uncertain times and eyes loyal to the court are always needed in places far from the Commander of the Faithful’s influence. You must gather information, on both the Successorate's subjects and potential allies.

Governors, Shaws, Amirs: Power must be delegated to keep the Successorate running, but those trusted with that power often have their own ends in mind.

The party will gain a Mark for discovering that:
  • A Governor, Shaw, or Amir practices a heretical religion 
  • A Governor, Shaw, or Amir has committed an act of treason or plans to (e.g. failing to recite the Successor’s name in communal prayers, failing to enforce the Successor’s edicts, or working with her enemies)
  • A group of rebels operates in the territory of a Governor, Shaw, or Amir

Major Factions: Not every tribe of idolaters is of interest to the Commander of the Faithful. Major factions control trade routes, cities, or have access to important trade goods. Be warned, khagans are not above misrepresenting their influence to win foreign favor.

The party will gain a Mark for discovering that:
  • A major faction is trading with a rival of the Successorate (Whose goods do they have?)
  • A major faction has adopted a religion which rivals the Besharan Way (Who advises them, where do they pray?)

Diplomacy: The party represents the Successorate, the Commander of the Faithful, and Besharan Way itself. Adopting the faith and forming an alliance with the Successorate are inextricably linked. Keep in mind that all reasoning creatures, not just people, can follow The Way and may be converted.

The party will receive a Mark for:
  • Opening formal diplomatic relations with a faction and inviting their conversion to the Besharan Way, they will expect gifts from Beshara
  • Correcting the practice of converts to the Besharan Way, converts often continue to practice idolatry
The party will receive two Marks for:
  • Converting a faction's leaders the Besharan Way, they will expect a large gift from the Successor himself, but a lesser religious figurehead can be petitioned to provide the gift

Mark Bounties: Certain objectives have Mark bounties assigned to them, which the party will be made aware of at the start of their journey. Here are some examples:
  • There is a reliable rumor that a Governor has secretly claimed the title of Successor, finding out who will be rewarded with 3 Marks
  • Finding the Iron Wall of The Two Horned Shaw is worth 4 Marks 

Relevant Setting Information

What is the Successorate and the Besharan Way?

The greatest state under heaven. Ruled by the Successor of the Prophetess' favorite assistant, Idris. Rashida adopted Idris into the Besharan people and named him the Commander of the Faithful before she ascended the sacred mountain. For three centuries Idris dwelt in occultation before reemerging to unite the followers of the Way and restore the faith to its roots, founding the tradition we know as the Besharan Way. All the Successor's have been descendants of Idris. The current dynasty are the Nourids, the family of Idris' middle daughter. 

Who opposes the Successorate? (the following list is not exhaustive)

The False Successorate: A rogue faction of Besharan nobility who lay claim to the titles of Idris. They control most of Tamania, but the true Successor maintains rule west of them.

The Way-Universal: A tradition of the Way founded by the Prophetess' favorite companion, Hallaj. There are many streams of the Hallajite tradition, but none is as powerful as the Way-Universal. It is probably headed by the Pontifex Maximus in the Eternal City, or perhaps by the Basilinna in the City of the Constant Emperors. Many kings and rulers follow the Way-Universal and oppose the Besharan Way. Many are interested in the Meager Country.

The Cult of Fire: A left over religion from antiquity. Their practice is not banned but it is heavily discouraged. Lingering loyalty to this old tradition sometimes grips of hearts of non-Besharan Shaws and Governors and its dying influence is still enough to spark troublesome rebellions.

This post is dedicated to Oghuz Khagan

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