And thus begins my great journey crafting a new sandbox setting utilizing AD&D 2nd Edition's Al-Qadim rules, but not the Zakhara setting. I had thought about it initially, but the setting as written doesn't have the conflicts and history that I want to introduce and I figured "hey, if I'm going to bother with writing that into a pre-existing setting, why don't I, I don't know, write my own?" And now here I am.
While the standard Middle-Eastern inspirations are there - One Thousand and One Nights, Ray Harryhausen films, folklore, and history, I'm also using more of my own favorites - Byzantine history, the conflict between the Caliphate and its foes from the aforementioned Byzantines to the Persians and the various sects within.
With that being said, I am also addressing some of the problems I've had when TSR presented Arabian Adventures and Oriental Adventures: they were just not Dungeons & Dragons enough. Where were the dungeons? Where were the dragons? Sure, a vishap or two appeared in some published module, but it wasn't enough for me. So much of the strangeness, the crazy mixes of fiction, folklore, history, and outright imagination are back in. Why wouldn't strange Lovecraftian horrors exist under a fantasy Middle East any more than a fantasy Europe? The Necronomicon was written by an Arab for fuck's sake!
There seemed to be a propensity in these products to introduce cultural prohibitions to keep players from playing the game as you normally would - reasons why characters wouldn't loot the dead and so on - ignoring the actual historical record that that is precisely what people did because human beings are human beings. So, away with that. Is is relevant to being a murder-hobo, killing people & critters and taking their stuff? No? Then away with it. Orcs, goblins, kobolds, and ogres embrace not-Islam and so now they're not at all antagonists that threaten human civilization? Away with it! They're still out there and they still hate humanity and its allies regardless of what foolish religion they believe in.
A region known as the Cradle of Civilization, with dozens of empires, some of the greatest that have ever existed, and barely a dungeon to be found in any of the published products? HELL NO. When the Middle East has some of the greatest ruins and subterranean cities known? It flies against all reason not to use those examples!
So what am I doing rather than not doing? An open campaign area, on the borderlands between the mighty Caliphate and the great empire of the unbelievers, a hundred years since the Believers poured out of their desert lands and overwhelmed the great kingdom of the Fire-worshipers. After the initial great invasions, the lands of Al-Thughur - The Clefts, borderlands claimed neither by the Caliphate or the Basilean Empire, or claimed by other humanoids or worse, and fortified by fortresses. The Basileans send their akritoi while in the Caliphate, companies of ghazi form to raid and gather plunder, whether it's a village, a fortress, or a monster lair. Sharafkhaneh focuses on one such place in the northern reaches of Al-Thughur...