Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Wolds of Fantasy Part II - Kingdoms of Kalamar

I have already written about Greyhawk, and concluded that it didn't do much for me. When I first heard of Kingdoms of Kalamar, it was a review on rpg.net. Interestingly enough that review felt it was a good effort, but that it was kind of bland. Sound familiar? I, on the other hand, thought it sounded like my kind of world.

What is Kingdoms of Kalamar (KoK) then? Well, it is a world which stand out as being intended to "make sense". The geography is thought out, with waterways and caravan routes by the big cities, water currents and trade routes and tectonics which looks real. It kind of reminds me of Harn. But, where Harn never worked for me, KoK did.

KoK feels a lot like a less higher powered world than, say, Forgotten Realms. There's NPCs that rule nations and city states, and there are guild masters and court magicians. But, it's not that common for them to be much higher than early "name level". I find that just to my taste. I also really like the political history, which will give you a lot of ideas for conflicts and drama. What made me a convert, though, was the idea of a big set of gods who are described in a general way and also described with different names for different cultures. No more "gods of the dwarves". I liked that. Also, they have no stats.

Now, it is kind of ironic that I feel Greyhawk is kind of bland, for KoK is actually very vanilla itself. It's plain solid medieval fantasy with all the trappings. The one "oddity" it has is that hobgoblins are civilized and have a sophisticated culture. Otherwise it strikes me as just what I think Greyhawk is. It's just a lot more real to me! I'm not a sucker for realism, but it feels more like a believable world than e.g. Greyhawk does. The strange thing is of course that it's not uncommon for people to encounter KoK and thing it looks to dull and non fantastic enough. I wonder what would have happened had KoK been the thing that defined D&D, and not Greyhawk? For those gamers who claims to like the Folio and the bare bones quality, maybe the Judge Guild Wilderlands is a better match, but for the vanilla fantasy mould I know no better than Kingdoms of Kalamar.

3 comments:

  1. I too am a fan of Kalamar, and am just getting an old-school game in that setting. There are a couple more oddities beyond what you've mentioned:

    1) An Amerindian culture (the Dejy) which lives alongside the prevailing European one.

    2) No color/thing or thing/other-thing names like Greyhawk or Waterdeep. There's a real effort to make all of the place names consistent with the stated rules of the various languages. This results in few that sound silly (P'Bapar, for example), but overall adds to the local color.

    3) The Atlas, which while it could use some imporovement in naming geographic features beyond the ones on the original poster map (or which the referee will need to mark up heavily for his own games), is a work of art and an incredible resource for those wilderness adventures.

    4) No common tongue beyond a pidgin "Merchant's Tongue" of limited usefulness.

    5) A stubborn refusal by the creators to inflict a plot on or advance the timeline of the setting in any way.

    Here's another vote for "best vanilla setting."

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  2. Well, it's nice not to have a lot of timeline advancing/metastory. That can get frustrating when that's the only products you see for a line.

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  3. Yeah, I consider that a strong point indeed!

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