The latter occurred after she found an old FRPG accessory I bought back in the late eighties. After Gygax was booted from TSR, he had an imprint called Gary Gygax Presents: Fantasy Master. To my knowledge it only produced a few accessories, of which I own Aesheba: Greek Africa by Robert J. Blake, Frank Mentzer and Jeff O’Hare.
Though I think it a very good product, in the long run it is something that will never be anything other than an accessory to steal ideas from, because I am not much interested in playing in a fantasy world primarily influenced by Greek paganism. I would, however, be interested in playing in a world influenced by a fantasy version of the Byzantine Empire. Since virtually all of my extent campaigns (especially Averoigne and Lost Colonies) have a heavy dose of horror that I feel is inappropriate for my kids at their age, Aesheba is a great jumping off point for a campaign for my kids.
Aesheba posits a version of Africa that is isolated from Europe and Mesopotamia, giving the authors plenty of room to fiddle with history and add fantasy elements. This suits me just fine, not only because of the leeway, it also affords me the opportunity to add two things that I feel obligated to include in such a campaign for my kids: dinosaurs and pyramids.
When asked what they want to be when they grow up, my two oldest will answer paleontologist and egyptologist. In order to accommodate these interests in the campaign, I am going to grab the assistance of Paul Jaquays and re-skin his very excellent classic The Caverns of Thracia.
For those that are not aware, The Caverns of Thracia is a module published by Judges Guild in 1979 and has one of the best conceived maps for a published module of all time. It has multiple ways into and out of various levels. There are secret sub-levels. There are teleportation devices. There is an underground forest and mansion. It is stunning and inspirational. It is, however, something that I would only run as written with a much older and experienced group.
Therefore, I am going to re-skin it. Originally, the history of the Caverns has three basic stages:
- An ancient pre-human reptilian race that eventually devolves into lizard men.
- A Mycenaen/Cretan human civilization that (in part) is dedicated to Thanatos, the god of death.
- Beast men who had been enslaved by the humans and had risen up to destroy and drive out their former masters.
My re-skinned version will assume the following:
- The ancient reptilians will be one of the many serpent-like people available in various monster catalogues throughout the hobby. Three things of import: 1) theirs is a world where dinosaurs still exist and which some have been domesticated; 2) when humans show up, the serpent people enslave them; 3) either as a means to control the humans or as part of their native culture, they serve Set.
- At some point the humans rise up in rebellion against their reptilian masters. This rebellion is fueled by a new religion — Atenism. Personally, the pharaoh in whom I am most interested in is Amenhotep IV, aka Akhenaten. He led a failed religious revolution that did not survive him. This religion had trappings of monotheism focused on Aten — originally an aspect of the sun god Ra. One of the things I find fascinating is how it parallels early Judaism. Indeed, there are scholars who find a great deal of similarity between the Great Hymn to the Aten and Psalm 104.
- After the rebellion, the serpent people retreated, but not without some of their human slaves. In order to make them more pliable and to ensure that they would not again rebel, the serpent people started to do magical experiments on their remaining human slaves in order to create various beast men (kobolds as dog men, gnolls as hyena men, lizard men, etc.). These will be primarily based upon the various anthropomorphic Egyptian gods. Once enough of these had been bred, they sent an army of beast men to crush the Atenist rebellion. The beast men are now in control of the dungeon.
This campaign will also necessitate two other significant changes from a traditional D&D campaign:
Firstly, the Byzantines did not think well of wizards and sorcery. Thus, magic-users as written would not exist; however, there was a sci-fi/fantasy book I read a couple decades ago that postulated a version of the Greek/Roman Mediterranean where all the laws of ancient science worked instead of the laws of modern science. It had a very cool pseudo-magic/science feel. Thus, the magic-user will be replaced by the philosopher — a class that studies the sciences to create machines and devices with the same effects as magic-user spells.
Secondly, elves, dwarves and halflings all really have their origins in northern european mythology rather than Greek/Mediterranean/African mythology. Thus, they are getting re-skinned as something that resonates with the feel of the campaign:
- Elves will be substituted with Kemites — humans in the serpent peoples’ sphere of influence. They are akin to OD&D elves — able to adventure as either a fighter or a philosopher.
- Dwarves will be substituted with white apes — an intelligent ape race.
- Halflings will be substituted with pygmies — short humans that are really good with missile weapons.