Great Khan Enthroned

Great Khan Enthroned

Friday, December 2, 2011

Garnia Reboot.




Rebooting movie franchises and beloved television franchises seems to be all the rage these days, from J.J. Abrams' "Star Trek" to Ron Moore's "Battlestar Galactica", that caused waves of nerd rage and/or nerdgasms, to a bunch of stuff like the "Dukes of Hazzard" or "Miami Vice" that most of us nerds could not care less about. Hollywood has been doing it for decades now and I figure maybe it's time I give my old workhorse world of Garnia a reboot to see how a fresh perspective and some new ideas in design might make my Celtic fantasy world work a little better now that I am older and less of a slave to the AD&D rule books.

Back when I was a kid; I mean literally a child, Garnia started as a project when I was in 7th grade, so I would have been twelve years old; I felt like I needed to jam into it everything "officially" available to me. Thankfully, at the time, the only published AD&D books were the MM, PH & DMG, although I did go on to make extensive use of other AD&D books as they were published, I felt less pressure to always find room for,say, the Nilbog or the Flumph. I will now apologize to my British readers for slighting their countrymen's contributions to the AD&D monster canon.

What got me thinking about this, aside from my work on putting together the campaign pages for my OA game "Against the Black Temple" on Obsidian Portal and seeing my still unfinished "Garnia" campaign pages, was the fact that I have been talking to Darryl again lately, and sure as winter is coming, we will eventually talk about Garnia. Why? Because, while Garnia may have been my brain child, he and I have been collaborating on it for so long now that it is at least partially his. He drew the original maps. He spent countless hours of his youth writing histories for the world. None of it is in use anymore, but he still was always right there in the planning stages. I know for a fact he's run entire campaigns there without any of my input at all when we lived thousands of miles apart.

We even have our favorite nations in the world, I favor Garnia, it was originally named after an old D&D character of mine "Garn the Great", I later retconned that to be an altered form of Gwarynica Riga- in the pseudo-Celtic language I kind of created using bits of Gaulish and Welsh and Gaelic and Breton it means pretty much "Kingdom of the people of Gwaryn", which was later shortened to simply "Garnia"; allowing me to keep the same name I'd always used for the campaign and the kingdom, but giving it a more historico-linguistic rationalization. Historically, in the campaign world, they are founded when the Humans sweep in off the northern steppes and destroy the (already besieged) ancient Elven empire in a decades long war of extermination. I picture their material culture starting off like the ancient Celts and building pretty much like western Europe over time, only with the Celtic artistic flavor throughout. Their kingdom has been conquered several times by their steppe dwelling cousins over the centuries, which generally results in nothing more than a change of dynasty as the new lords settle in to the comforts of civilization. I modeled their history on that of China.

Darryl favors Frodia. Frodia was a nation of sorcerers that I always likened to Howard's Stygia with it's Sorcerous Priests and I wanted to have a nation that would be a clear foil to the noble warriors of Garnia when I set up the world initially, as a kid. Plus, Magocracy was a government type in the DMG and it sounded cool. According to the earliest histories that I wrote (and still have!), Frodia is a child kingdom of Garnia dating to the earliest times after the Humans conquered the old Elven kingdom. A cult sprung up worshiping Frodal*, a name that is going to have to go in any reboot, who was a god of magic; and they were outlawed and driven from the kingdom of Garnia into the wilderness; or, alternately, these priest-kings discovered secrets of ancient elven magic and rebelled against the weak central authority of the Garnian high-king, taking the south-western third of the kingdom with them, which is actually more likely. Frodia also is more urban, the major elven cities having been less destroyed by the decades long conquest by the time it reached there. They have a major river as a natural defensive border between them, think of it like the Rhine.

That actually is where he and I had one of our greatest creative differences. He saw Frodia as this Magic-User ruled utopia with magic taking the place of technology, kind of a magi-tech, almost steam punk before that was a thing, thing going on there. He also saw them as clearly the greatest superpower in the world. I was going for a more "pulp-fantasy" Conan the Barbarian, so when magic does happen it will be awesome kind of a vibe, even back then, and I still kind of do that now. I like magic to be either of the rare and wonderful or scary and possibly sanity destroying varieties. Perhaps D&D/AD&D wasn't the best vehicle to convey my vision of a "perfect" RPG world, but it's what I had, and what I have.

Anyway, enough about two countries in a fantasy world most of you don't care about, although, if I ever do actually publish anything through the Hydra collective, my Garnia campaign will probably be it. My wife Mona and my daughter Ashli were sitting in the living room sick the other day, so I had a captive audience, which they hate, and I said to them "I think for my next (D&D) game I am going to get rid of all the half breeds, they really don't make much sense when you think about it. No Half-Orcs, Half-Elves, Half-Ogres, or Halflings!", I threw that last one in there just to see if they were paying attention, and if they weren't before, that sure got it. You'd think I'd kicked a hornet's nest from the reaction it got, are Halflings really such sacred cows in the D&D/RPG universe? My adult take on them is that EGG either added them to OD&D because he snagged everything he could for content from every source he could find, fantasy, science fiction, mythology, even the Bible(!); or, more cynically, he deliberately contrived to add Hobbits to OD&D to broaden it's appeal because Tolkien's work was so popular in the US at the time; either way, I don't think the loss of one PC race is going to ruin the game world and I have always had trouble rationalizing a reason for their existence in my Garnia campaign world. Plus, I didn't see anyone coming to the defense of the poor bloody Gnomes when they got the axe back in the 90's. I know they are technically not half breeds, like the other races I am considering taking out, but is it really so bad to be limited to playing Humans, Elves & Dwarves?

Elves and Dwarves are getting a racial make-over too, partially due to an offhand comment by my wife, who said "Why let people play Elves at all?", in regard to the setting being the ruins of an ancient Elven empire; that gave me a kick-ass idea, all player character Elves are what I am calling "Fallen Elves" the degenerate survivors of their long ago fallen race, no longer immortal, merely long-lived; they have lost the culture, technological secrets and magic of their forebears. They are the ones that fled to the wilderness, turned coat or submitted to slavery, the descendants of the few survivors of a near total genocide of their species. This allows for the seriously strong mystical, hidden Elven island kingdom to still exist and have really powerful Elves that aren't like the PCs, that shun the PC Elves as a lesser version of themselves.

Dwarven PCs get a similar treatment, but to a much lesser extent, all Dwarven PCs start as "Broken Dwarves", Dwarves from clans or kingdoms that have lost their territory to humanoid encroachment and moved into Human lands as refugees. The Garnian high-kings have always had a history of keeping a Dwarven warband, as do some other ranking nobles. Dwarves are essentially mountain dwelling craftsmen, traders and warriors; to my mind that makes them pretty much like short Vikings culturally, and in AD&D they can't be anything but Fighters and Thieves (or Assassins, but that's another story). So, my point here is, essentially, that if you play a Dwarf in my Garnia campaign, then your character is pretty much a refugee. Maybe a refugee of generations long status, but a refugee all the same.

Humans are supposed to be the backbone of any party in AD&D, and the culture of my campaign is set up for it to be a very humanocentric world, the reboot is going to make it even moreso, only more like ancient/medieval Europe too, where the territory between settled areas is dangerous howling wilderness and ancient evils lurk waiting to trap and devour the unwary. The cool thing about a reboot is I don't have to toss out thirty years of development entirely and start again from scratch, that's probably why Hollywood likes them, I can take the good bits and tweak them better, I can keep the best bits the same and I can toss the crap bits entirely.

The hard part is deciding what constitutes crap. Over the last 30 years Garnia has accreted to it pretty much every smaller, lesser campaign idea I have ever had and some of them I still love. Old fantasy Roman empire campaign where the Romans conquered an Egypt that was run by Goblins? It's on the other side of the huge and largely impassable mountain chain where the Dwarven kingdoms are, on the old Roman campaign map, they were called "Regni Homoi Cortii" or something like that, I don't actually speak Latin, so I had to look it up at the time, I really just read Latin, and then only some. Damned American educational system. But it was like I'd planned for those two maps to fit together all along.

How about those independent "Mistlander" Clans? Essentially Scottish Highlanders living in a mountainous area north east of the kingdom of Garnia, the area is always foggy and the sulfurous fog eats ferrous metals over the course of days. Between the mists and the hostile terrain, no one has ever been able to conquer them. Do we like the idea of a Chinese empire on the same map as a Celtic one? How about the Japanese islands (Tenchuko, I forget what it means) just off map? Most of the lands are Celtic, the first non-Celts were the Wotanic Knights, who were actually one of the few (relatively) unchanged names from the original Garnia map, back in the day when all of the names were vaguely Germanic, rather than Celtic. Now the county's called Wodanslund, and the people bear a striking resemblance to the Rohirrim that I never noticed until I actually set a campaign there a couple of years ago. I have an origin myth for them even. What about the Viking island kingdoms? The Byzantines? The Aztecs? The Mongols (actually a mixed Turko-Mongolian horde) that I placed in an unused spot on the map and used as a tribute to the Steppe Warriors? The Necromancer's lands are Arabic in name and culture, just south of the civil war torn Celtic kingdom of Tir nan Kaur, and the Necromancer once, almost, conquered the entire world. I have an Orc kingdom on land torn from Garnia itself, should I keep it or kill it? Do I have too many races and cultures?

The key thing to remember is that the world where Garnia is was the Elven home world and is at the heart of a multi-planar war between the forces of good and the forces of evil. Humankind was the wild card introduced by the forces of evil to unbalance things, Humans are inherently neither good nor evil, other races are. Since this is a good plane, the goodness emanating influences the naturally unaligned Humans towards good, but it isn't a given. Anyway, Humans are an import, brought through planar gates, Stargate style, although long before that movie/TV series, and I picked the Ancient Celts as the people to go, the had a lot going for them. War chariots, head-hunting, woad, iron weapons, warlike disposition and a tendency to migrate entire tribes all at once seemingly on a whim. Oh, and Druids and Bards. Plus a largely mutually antagonistic relationship with the Roman empire over time. Those things combined to make them ideal choices for my peoples of choice for the journey to another world, plus my own feeling that they peaked too soon here on Earth, so maybe I could give them another chance elsewhere, and almost all of my own ancestors are western Europeans, some of them are Scottish Highlanders, so there is a little narcissism there too.

There's a little more to the whole story than just that, and originally I had it being the Germanic hordes that took down the Roman empire instead of the Celtic hordes that were taken down by the Romans, but I wanted to move it back into the mists of time some and give me a little wiggle room, plus it seemed like everyone and their brother was doing everything in a Germanic barbarian or Viking theme back then, so I wanted to be different, even if it meant I couldn't pronounce half of the names I was using properly. Incidentally, also a problem for people using Viking or Germanic barbarian stuff, just saying; it remains so to this day for the vast majority.

*Frodal- God of Magic is one of the pantheon of deities I designed using EGG's Greyhawk and the DDG as a guide, they are horrible. Garn was another, but he was just a deified player character of mine, that I created the entire world as a vanity project for, one of the other gods was "Ignas the Bright" Who, I believe was a God of Law. His people got the far away "Bright Empire", a Lawful Neutral aligned empire, that was sometimes at war on the sea and over some rough terrain and at long distance, on land, with Garnia, they are now known as "The Empire of Ming Liang**". The rest of my original pantheon? I have them in a binder here somewhere, but they are painful to see. They were replaced, largely, by the Celtic pantheon by the 1990's, although some parts of the world have other gods and the Demi-Humans and Humanoids have always had their own too. I have never been able to come up with a good rational Celticization of Frodia, I have been able to do that for other countries on the map, the old Torakor, invented when I was 12, got to be renamed "Tir nan Kaur", I forget what it means, and it's probably in a mixture of languages, "Tir Nan" means "Land of" in Gaelic I know.

**Yes, it's poor form to footnote a footnote, but I felt it best to mention that I redesigned that area of the world specifically so I could play some Oriental Adventures without ever having to leave my Garnia campaign world, and then never did. Every single time I play OA, I end up playing in Kara-Tur.