More Al-Qadim Thoughts

Dagnabbit, do I need to buy Southlands?

Since I can’t get my brain to concentrate on anything really creative, let’s muse for a moments about the races of Zakhara in the setting of Al-Qadim.

One of the surprising and forward-thinking aspects of Al-Qadim is that all of the usual fantasy races (elves and dwarves, orcs and goblins, etc.) live peacefully side-by-side, integrated as citizens of one nation and worshippers of one religion. I want to like this a lot more than I do; as much as I appreciate the inherent message that all sentient species can learn to come together (like in Star Trek), it just feels weird in a fantasy setting. 

I mean, if elves live for 1,000 years and they’re part of the same society as humans, why haven’t they all risen into positions of power? I mean, 20 years at the same job gets me a parking place, so surely 100 years or more gets you into upper management? Why isn’t every pasha an elf? Why isn’t the royal family?

Given that Zakhara (the in-game name for the sub-continent on which Al-Qadim is set) is supposed to be part of the same world as the Forgotten Realms, I find it weird that all of these diverse cultures have integrated. Up in Faerun, they’ve been interacting for tens of thousands of years and never successfully formed an integrated culture. Why are the cultural divides erased in Zakhara?

Admittedly, I have a pet theory for that. Calimshan – an Arabian Nights-type setting in the normal Realms – has been established in canon as part of a former genie empire that brought humans from Zakhara into the north (though this is an obvious ret-con to explain the cultural similarities). I would conjecture that the dwarves, halflings, elves, gnomes, goblins, ogres, orcs, and other standard fantasy races in Zakhara were originally brought south as slaves by that long-fallen genie. Separated by thousands of miles from their homelands and home cultures, they eventually assimilated.

Unfortunately, it still feels awkward – and kind of boring – to me. Why even have different races if they don’t have different cultures? I suspect this was one of the issues that prevented me from ever playing the setting back in the old days.

If I do get to run an Al-Qadim campaign, then I’d like to populate it in a way that makes more sense to me. Al-Qadim was released before Planescape, and somehow didn’t invent genasi itself, so I’d introduce those descendants of genies into the setting (possibly borrowing somewhat from 4e’s reworking of Calimshan into a genasi homeland). There are jungles as well as deserts, so I’d work in the tabaxi (and probably give them more humanoid heads so that they’re sexy Thundercats-looking cat people instead of weird Chester Cheetah-looking cat people). A former kingdom of giants is also part of the setting, so it would make sense to work in some variant of goliaths (or Dark Sun-derived half-giants). For the life of me, I can’t understand why gnolls aren’t a significant race in the setting (I know I complained in the earlier post about Land of Fire’s hyena-people, but that’s because the only non-humans are them, jackal-people, sand goblins, and pseudo-genasi).  

Hmm… Looking at that last sentence makes me wonder if I just need to add some sexier non-humans to Land of Fire...

Dammit, I’m just going to wind up making up another homebrew setting as I go along, aren’t I?


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