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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

J is for-

Jagatai my online Mongol persona. Considering I am an American of Scottish Highland, English and French descent some people find it a little strange that I have a Mongol Warrior persona on the internet. Jagatai came about through a strange conjunction of circumstances. When the Steppe Warriors were forming in the original Neverwinter Nights on AOL, Darryl C. and I were looking for a hook to make our new guild different from every other guild. I had been playing a lot of Civilization at the time and the Mongols were one of my favorite civs to play. I had been one of, apparently, relatively few fans of the Hordelands Campaign setting from TSR*. I had read and enjoyed the Horde trilogy, although everyone I know who has read it agrees that it is total BS that King Azoun of Cormyr beats Yamun Khan; simply unrealistic and unsupported by the history on which so much of the Tuigan/Mongol thing is based. They would have been better off having Yamun die some other way and force the horde to return to Qaraband for a new couralitai, that's how Europe was saved from the Mongols historically. Twice.

Anyway, we decided that the culturally distinct warrior Mongols made a fine addition to AOL's Neverwinter Nights and we ran with it. We created our own back story in keeping with Forgotten Realms canon, we were Tuigan survivors of the Battle of the Golden Way. Cut off from retreating to the east towards home we crossed all of Faerun and ended up settling outside of Neverwinter, where we were largely welcomed as an organized force of warriors that helped to protect the land. Essentially we became Cossacks in the service of Lord Nasher, but not really. Our ultimate goal was to set up an independent horde, like the Golden Horde, and conquer everything. It says so in our group charter, which is known as "The Revered Yassa of Jagatai, Khakhan of the Steppe Warriors"**.

That Jagatai and the Steppe Warriors would bleed over into almost every aspect of my life is kind of amusing to me, considering the whole thing started as an online AD&D character. Obviously it has though, look at the title of the blog! I have made friends over the years that only know me as Jagatai. The Steppe Warriors and Jagatai have been present in a plethora of online games since their inception in 1996, with greater and lesser presences depending on the game; ranging from MMORPG to FPS to RTS to chat room D&D. We have held a number of gatherings, where people come from all over the US to camp in my yard for a long weekend and get to know in person the people they spend so much time online with. It's not really too much like "The Guild". We have featured a number of medieval and Mongol style sporting events, including boffer fighting tourneys, archery, thrown weapons, races and feats of strength. We also play D&D, face to face, on the table top then too, it's pretty cool.

J is for Japan, the source of so much of my inspiration, particularly feudal Japan. I blame the TV mini-series Shogun airing when I was at an age to be particularly susceptible to cool exotic stuff. I am from rural upstate NY, dairy country, and while I can't say I had never seen an Asian face before, I can say I had never seen an Asian culture before and it was presented so as to make it easy for us westerners to get. Some people say that James Clavell played a little too free and easy with Japanese history, I think he set a good balance. He made learning about feudal Japan palatable and digestible to the average American. In order to get the same kind of easy to understand story going we would have to wait another 20 years for "The Last Samurai", and that seemed to me to just be a rip-off of "Dances with Wolves".

Anyway, like most nerds from the 80's, I grew up loving Samurai and Ninja. I learned as much as I could about the exotic Japanese culture, from martial arts and Bushido to the tea ceremony and Zen. Then, of course, I ran D&D games there.

I eventually graduated to watching Japanese Samurai movies, the Seven Samurai is still my favorite, but I recently watched 13 Assassins and that was a lot of fun too.

J is for Jarl, according to Norse mythology, one of the three social classes of men along with Karls and Thralls. Jarl is at the top of the social heap and kings are descended from them. Curiously, they were all fathered by Rig, who scholars believe to be Heimdall. Why then are the first born (thralls) at the bottom of the social ladder?

*OK, I am not going to lie here, the setting itself wasn't that great, it kind of read like a boring history and travelogue of central Asia with random fantasy thrown in; but I did like it as an expansion for Kara-Tur, which it worked as quite well.

**Before I sound like too much of an ego maniac here, we stole the style from Genghis Khan and I was not the first Khakhan of the Steppe Warriors, Darryl C. was. He got the job because he could afford to be online more often than me playing NWN back then (hourly rates, he had a real job, I was in college) and he had been playing longer than me and knew more people in the NWN community; which should have made things easier for us to transition our new guild into place. As the Khakhan Ogotai, Darryl has a number of credits to his name, he was a good recruiter and a decent diplomat with other guild leaders. He led us to victory in the flurry of wars that we were forced into when we arrived on the scene. He wrote the first Yassa and a bunch of it's early revisions, the format of which is still used and the bulk of the text is the same; when the Yassa is revised it is usually clarified by addition not modified by subtraction. In the end, his real life issues made him a poor leader for us and he stepped down as Khakhan, then ultimately, left the Steppe Warriors all together. He and I parted ways somewhat acrimoniously as well, and despite both of us reaching out and trying to rebuild our old friendship on several occasions, we really still aren't speaking. I try and concentrate on the good times when I write about him, he was my best friend for something like 20 years, so I have a lot of those.