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The Secret to Arabian Nights (And Days)

Written by Nicholas - Published on December 18, 2008

Nicholas is the columnist in charge of Nerd Watching and part-time Expy wrangler. He also works as the community manager, so keep an eye out for him on RPG blogs and forums.

More than meets the eye

It is a land too often forgotten, feared and misunderstood in the modern world. However for those who care to look the land of Arabia has more than just oil lurking beneath its sands, it has stories. These stories can be your stories with a little effort. A tribe of desert nomads who run caravans between cities could be mechanically the same as half-elves but still feel different. The exiled wanderer who comes from that tribe and survives off the sparse desert is the same as a half-elf ranger. You could tell the tale of a young man whose family was slaughtered by bandits but in his escape he discovers the fetter of a djinn. The djinn grants him magic power so that he might take his revenge, but the magic corrupts his body and forever marks him. That story has a very Arabian feel to it and it makes for a much richer tale than if the player had just written “Tiefling Warlock” on his character sheet.

Here’s just a few of the things to keep in mind if you are looking to run a game with an Arabian setting:

Inspiration: Obviously anyone looking to run an Arabian games should check out “One Thousand and One Nights” (also known as “Arabian Nights”). The book is nothing more than a group of Arabian short stories, perhaps artificially compiled, but is a rich primer for anyone interest in the mythology of the region. For those with limited time, attention span or who just aren’t big on reading the stories have been frequently adapted to movies and miniseries (here is my personal favorite). My own observations of the stories is that the period had a high regard for the clever. The protagonists who succeed are those who manage by their wits and observation, such as Aladdin and Morgiana from the tale of Ali Baba. However just because combat prowess was not the most revered trait it does not mean the stories were not violent. Death was swift and brutal to the wicked and stupid, it was just delivered by characters using their brains more than brawn.

Props: As always ancient maps of the region make for great props. This setting is famous for seemingly ordinary items with amazing powers hidden within. If a players stumbles onto a tarnished brass ring or a beat up hour glass they will be interested. If you take it one step further and hand the group the item in question, you are going to peak their interest.

Hazards: There are lots of hazards to be found in an Arabian setting. Most obviously, the environment is harsh. A character who finds himself wandering the desert is are very real risk of getting lost, succumbing to the heat, running out of water or attacking marauders. Societally Arabian settings are often host to dangerous leadership. Gluttonous nobles, corrupt princes or treacherous advisors who control the true power of the throne can all prove very dangerous to the players. Creature-wise there is a whole family of djinn spirits, such as ifrits and ghouls who can terrorize your group.

If you have a group of players who likes to solve problems with wits and trickery, you could find it very worthwhile to explore an Arabian setting. What are your thoughts on playing in this kind of setting?

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Written by Nicholas

Nick DiPetrillo is the original author behind the games Arete and Zombie Murder Mystery available at http://games.dungeonmastering.com

Nick is no longer active with DungeonMastering.com, however he is an accomplished writer and published his first game in 2009.

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Nicholas is the columnist in charge of Nerd Watching and part-time Expy wrangler. He also works as the community manager, so keep an eye out for him on RPG blogs and forums.



7 Responses to “The Secret to Arabian Nights (And Days)”
  1. Dan says:

    Im an arab myself so I draw a lot of inspiration from these (along with King Arthur, mythology).

  2. The Evil DM says:

    For adventuring in an “Arabian Nights” setting my go to is the Al-Qadim line from TSR. GURPS also has a great sourcebook for the setting. And of course there are the Harryhausen movies for swashbuckling inspiration. I enjoyed John Leguizamo’s “Genie of the lamp”, if you pay attention you can hear him work in quite a few Tagalog words and phrases- a Filipino genie, cool. I tend to run my games more “Arabian Knights” than “Arabian Nights”- “SIZE of a tiger!”

    Sinbad campiagns are fun. Give your players heroes a ship and crew and have them sail the seven seas. The newer Sinbad animated movie is very good and full of adventure ideas.

  3. Toord says:

    Nick … I said it to Janna … I say it to you, for what’s worth: -1 for using the word ‘secret’ in the title of your post! C’mon … you DMs can come up with better verbiage.

    As for the article itself … Arabian setting … desert … mummies … temples … blue dragon … wait … WTF?!?!? aaaarrghhh help!!!!

  4. Nicholas says:

    @Toord: Heh, we have a naming formula table we use when we can’t think of a title. I think we both use secret a lot because it is one of the better ones on the list. I noticed when you commented on Janna’s article but this piece was written two weeks ago and I couldn’t change it. I’m going to try and break the habit.


    Would any of those get me my point back?

  5. Toord says:

    @Nicholas: hehe. Well, those synonyms don’t quite fit the phrase. But I’ll give you and Janna your points back … just ‘cuz it’s Festivus! :)

  6. Nicholas says:

    @Toord: As the defender of my household’s feats of strength I wish you a merry Festivus.

  7. Matt says:

    You pique interest , not “peak.” Otherwise a good article that could be expanded.

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