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Tabletop Game / Al-Qadim

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Al-Qadim is an "Arabian Nights" Days-flavored campaign setting for Dungeons & Dragons released in 1992 by TSR for the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd edition ruleset. Originally released as a sourcebook called "Al-Qadim: Arabian Adventures", which, much like the earlier "Oriental Adventures", focused on mechanical material for playing in a Arabian Nights-inspired fantasy world, it was followed by a box set titled "Al-Qadim: Land of Fate", which fleshed out the "official" Al-Qadim setting.

The Empire of Al-Qadim lies on the continent of Zakhara, a tropical peninsula that lies to the south of the known world of the Forgotten Realms setting. It is a loose allegiance of nomadic tribes (called the Al-Badia) and city-states (whose inhabitants are called the Al-Hadhar), united by a universal culture and shared religion, and nominally all owing their ultimate allegiance to the Caliph. In practice, the individual city-states, tribes and regions all have their own local influences on their culture, and there is much political intrigue.

One unique characteristic of the setting is that it is far more racially integrated than was the norm at the time. Humans, demihumans and humanoid races all intermingle and share the singular culture; racial conflict stems mostly from innately magical, monstrous races such as the yakmen and the yuan-ti, who feel their powers merit their dominion over Zakhara.

Al-Qadim has gone mostly untouched since 2nd edition ended, and this may be due to perceived political overtones.

Tropes present in this game include:

  • Always Chaotic Evil:
    • Subverted with "traditional" races; orcs, goblinoids, gnolls and the like are fully integrated into Zakharan society and can be of any alignment.
    • Played straight, but only with magical races, such as yak-men and yuan-ti.
  • Arranged Marriage: This is the traditional norm in Zakhara, although love-matches are not unheard of.
  • Crystal Dragon Jesus: The religious practices of Zakhara strongly mimic Islam. However, they worship a polytheistic collection of eight gods, known as the Great Gods; Hajama (God of Courage), Hakiya (Goddess of Truth), Haku (God of Independence), Jisan (Goddess of Fertility & Productivity), Kor (God of Wisdom), Najm (God/dess of Adventure & Curiosity), Selan (Goddess of Pulchritude & Grace), and Zann (God of Learning and Intelligence). And even then, these deities are revered not so much for their individual portfolios but for their championing of specific aspects of the Code of Enlightenment - the civil codes and rulings that define Zakharan culture in its entirety.
    • Alongside the Great Gods, Zakharans quasi-worship three figures; Fate itself, the Loregiver, and the Grand Caliph. Whilst not considered gods themselves, they are highly important figures in the "Enlightened" faith; Fate is regarded as the power beyond the gods themselves, the Loregiver is revered as the female prophetess who gave the world the Code of Enlightenment, and the Grand Caliph is revered as an authority established by Fate herself.
    • Additionally, there is a huge, sprawling array of lesser deities, collectively known as Local Gods or Common Gods, who are more restricted in their origins. In the Pantheist League, one local god, Jauhar (Goddess of Wealth) is considered a Great God whilst Jisan is considered only a Common God.
    • The Zakharans also, barely, acknowledge the existence of gods not described by the Loregiver; they dub these gods "Savage Gods" or "Heathen Gods", and whilst there is no official persecution against the worshippers of these deities, some sects or priests take a personal offense to them.
  • Elemental Powers: Elementalists and Sorcerers are wizards who use magical powers based on controlling one or two of the four elemental spheres; Sand, Sea, Flame or Wind.
  • Exotic Extended Marriage:
    • Harems are legal amongst the Al-Hadhar, although few except the wealthy take advantage of it; due to the first sha'ir supposedly having four genie brides, one from each of the different types, 4 wives is the unofficial limit. Aside from financial issues, all secondary wives must be approved of by a man's first wife, which keeps the practice uncommon.
      • People of both sexes may also have concubines, although it is shameful to have one without having a spouse. Concubines and their offspring have fewer inherent rights than spouses. The Grand Caliph traditionally has a vast harem of concubines, and rarely takes official brides.
    • In trade cities, it is common for the different spouses of a man to live independently and manage their own individual trading posts, in contrast to sharing a single house; the women of such harems may never even see their co-wives' faces, as their husband moves between their houses following the trade markets.
    • The isle of Afyal practices polyandry, due to the extensive period of time its menfolk tend to spend away as traders. So long as her first husband permits, a Afyal merchant-woman may marry as many men as she pleases, with her husbands all working for the trading company that she manages.
    • Ironically, the nomadic Al-Badia usually practice monogamy, considering polygamy to generally be too expensive or too much hassle. However, they can divorce and remarry each other far more readily than their Al-Hadhar cousins.
  • The Fundamentalist:
    • Played straight with the Pantheist League, who are conservative and theocratic well beyond the standards of the other city-states and tribes of Zakhara, and who are regarded with some distaste for their hidebound attitudes.
    • Zigzagged with other Zakharans. The only belief system that is regarded as culturally intolerable amongst Zakharans is a lack of belief in a higher power. Tolerance is prized as a virtue in Zakhara, but Zakharan teachings align belief in a deity as an inherent part of a moral anchor; somebody who believes in a competitive god, an antithetical position or even a foreign deity at least acknowledges the basic ideas of "proper behavior".
    • Invoked with the Moralist kit for priests, which specifically represents the most "conservative and intolerant" breed of priest to be found in the Land of Fate.
  • Heir Club for Men: There are no less than two entirely unconnected magical curses put on the Grand Caliph to ensure that he never sires a male heir.
  • Hollywood Atheist: Invoked; people who disbelieve in the existence or authority of gods are seen as morally suspect in Zakharan culture, and can expect to be denied hospitality by most, to be sent on their way by many, and to be verbally or physically attacked by a righteous few. A wise unbeliever, it can be said, keeps his or her philosophy private.
  • Magic A Is Magic A: Al-Qadim has three unique wizard traditions, and none of the conventional D&D traditions of wizardry such as conjuration, necromancy or evocation, are found in Zakhara. Elementalists use Elemental Powers, drawn from one of the single elements; Earth, Air, Water or Fire (which they refer to as Sand, Wind, Sea and Flame). Sorcerers are less potent than Elementalists, but more flexible, as they can draw power from two elements instead of just one. Finally, the Sha'ir are wizards who derive their power by enticing a Gen, a lesser genie, to serve as a familiar; it collects spells from the genie realms and allows the sha'ir to cast almost any kind of magic, to a point.
  • Monster Adventurers: To emphasize the subversion of Always Chaotic Evil, Zakhara officially names a variety of monstrous races as being civilized enough to integrate both into Zakharan culture and into adventuring parties: orcs (pure and half-human), ogres (pure, half-human and magi), kobolds, Lizard Folk, goblins, hobgoblins, bugbears, centaurs, minotaurs, wemics, aarakocra, kenku, merfolk and locathah.
  • Our Genies Are Different: Like all Dungeons & Dragons settings, Zakhara is home to four different breeds of genie based on the four elements; the Dao of Earth, the Djinn of Air, the Efreet of Fire, and the Marids of Water. It's also home to a unique array of servitor genies, the so-called "Tasked Genies"; specialist subraces that have been bred to perform specific tasks, such as conveying messengers, caring for livestock herds, being architects, mining, etcetera. Finally, it's home to the Gen, small and weak genie-kin who act as familiars to specialized mages called Sha'irs.
  • Our Minotaurs Are Different: The Yakmen, or Yikaria as they call themselves, are a race of malevolent humanoid yaks who possess powerful innate magic, and who even have the capacity to enslave genies.
  • Sacred Hospitality: The idea that guest and host are obliged to show each other their best behavior is central to Zakharan culture.
  • Snake People: The Yuan-ti, a malevolent race of serpentine humanoids who seek dominion over the world, have a strong presence in the tropical heat of Zakhara.
  • Stay in the Kitchen: Subverted. Prior to the coming of the Loregiver, Al-Hadhari women were more socially restricted than their menfolk, but in the modern era, their rights and opportunities are all but equal to those of their menfolk. Though there has not yet been a female to claim the role of Grand Caliph, there is no active restriction against this, and women in Zakhara have been deadly assassins, wise viziers, brave generals, calpihs, emiras and sultanas.
  • Square Race, Round Class: Zakhara embraces this in multiple ways, allowing for race/class combos that would be impossible without homebrewing rules normally:
    • Dwarves, who in every other AD&D setting are incapable of casting spells, can become sha'irs.
    • Gnomes, restricted to the illusionist style of magic in other AD&D settings, can learn elementalism, sorcery and sha'ir magic in Zakhara.
    • Goblins can become rangers.
    • Hobgoblins can become rangers and sha'ir.
    • Kobolds can become bards.
    • Lizardfolk can become sha'ir and bards.
    • Ogres and Half-Ogres can become sha'ir and thieves.
    • Half-Orcs can become rangers, sha'ir and bards.
  • Unequal Rites:
    • It's implied genies subtly prevent any form of full-fledged wizardry other than elementalism, sorcery or the path of the sha'ir from taking root in Zakhara. The Complete Sha'ir's Handbook states outright that outlander wizards will never, ever find any new spells they can learn to cast in Zakhara, forcing them to either move on to other places, or to ceremonially forsake their "tainted" magic by ritually destroying their spellbook and begging for the kindness of the genies, which will cause them to irrevocably change from whatever type of wizard they were to one of the Zakharan forms.
    • The Brotherhood of the True Flame is a society of fire elementalists who believe unabashedly in the supremacy of their branch of magic, and who seek to exterminate all other arcanist styles from Zakhara to enforce their power.
  • Universally Beloved Leader: The Grand Caliph Khalil al-Assad al-Zahir is pretty much universally beloved, save by the setting's villains. There's a reason he's under not one, but two entirely separate magical curses to weaken his family's grip by ensuring he can only father daughters on his vast harem.