Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Gamer ADD: An Original Known World Campaign

Thanks to all of the interesting information made available about the Original Known World (OKW) through the diligence of James Mishler and the generosity of Lawrence Schick (see the links here), I have a serious case of Gamer ADD. Admittedly, I’ve never been a big fan of Mystara and I certainly have never run or been a player in the Known World; however, I really like the idea of starting with the raw material of the Known World prior to publication and running with it.

The problem with it is its size. The OKW is HUGE. In order to really do a thought experiment about the OKW any justice, I will need to choose one of the cultural analogs and focus on that. Of those listed by Schick, three really interest me: Thyatis (Ancient Greece/Rome), Corunglain (Byzantine) and Cezavy/Sclavak (Kievan Rus).

One of the main reasons for this is that of all the various deities that end up on Moldvay’s and Schick’s grand table of gods, nothing corresponds to either Byzantium or the Kievan Rus. This, of course, is due to the fact that both were explicitly Christian civilizations. What interests me about Thyatis is that the existence of a Byzantine culture suggests that Thyatis is the same culture.

The word “Byzantine” was coined in the 16th century by a Frenchman long after what we call the Byzantine Empire collapsed. In reality, the Empire that had Constantinople as its capital called itself the Roman Empire. In other words, it is incorrect to say that the Roman Empire fell in the fifth century A.D. Rome fell, but the Empire persisted in the East for another thousand years. Thus, if we were to use this historical pattern as a reference, what was the Thyatis Empire still exists in a diminished form in Corunglain. This suggests that the Thyatis Empire had adopted Christianity or a fantasy analog prior to its collapse.

The “Byzantines” were also responsible for the Christianization of the Rus and were responsible for providing bishops throughout the Kievan Rus period. When Constantinople fell, the Russians adopted the concept of the “Third Rome.” In the same way that the Roman Empire continued to exist sans Rome in Constantinople, the Russians sought to be the center and protector of (Orthodox) Christian civilization after Constantinople became Istanbul. Thus, Cezavy has taken up the mantle of “Empire” in an effort to aspire to be the next Thyatis.

Of the three, I am least inclined to expand upon Thyatis, simply because it played such a large part in what became Mystara. Corunglain certainly has the most intriguing geography. It is the closest of the three to the Tharks and has immediate neighbors in Akoros (Mughal India) and Karameikos. Cezavy, though, has a couple of things going for it that really interest me.

Firstly, it exists only in the OKW and not in Mystara (to my knowledge). Therefore, I don’t have any canon I need to worry about stepping all over. Secondly, the Kievan Rus period is really interesting. It is familiar enough for players to immerse themselves into the setting, but also alien enough to make things interesting. The one factor, however, that really attracts me to Cezavy is its proximity to the “marginally human” Quastogs. Schick explains that they have a difficult time reproducing and go far wand wide to raid other cultures abducting people. This is great fodder for background noise and adventures. It also gives me an excuse to put a new spin on the half-orc.

Therefore, my currently non-playing gamer mind will be keeping itself busy with bringing an OKW Cezavy campaign setting to life. I hope you enjoy.

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