Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Can we call you Al, or maybe just Din?

This post is a (slightly early) contribution to Catacomb Librarian's Obscure RPG Appreciation Day. This entry may not be about a full-on Role Playing Game, but it's definitely an old-school game of collaborative fantasy adventuring and storytelling.  The version that I own was published in 1985, so it falls within the years of the challenge (even if it may be too late to be some peoples' idea of the "Golden Age" of tabletop gaming).  :-)

Tales of the Arabian Nights was written by Eric Goldberg, and is described on the back of the box as "A game of fateful voyages and fabulous stories."  On the surface, it's a hybrid of a board game (with players moving their counters around a fantasy map of Europe, Asia, and North Africa) and a choose-your-own-adventure book.  The latter comes into play with "The Book of Tales," a collection of 1400 snippets of text that one turns to as directed by the events on the board.

There are quite a few good, detailed reviews of Arabian Nights on the web --see here and here and here, for example -- so I won't go into too much detail about how it's played.  Suffice to say that the Book of Tales makes it just as easy to play the game solitaire as it does to have fun with two to six friends.  It also generates an absurdly large number of possible situations.  The goal is to explore the world, build up a store of wealth and life experience, and return to the home city of Baghdad in triumph.  Anyone who's seen a Sinbad or Aladdin movie, or read about the 1001 tales told by Sheherezad, knows what kind of adventures await the traveler.

The original 1985 version of the game is quite modular:  there is a basic game, with the simplest rules, and there are several add-ons that make it more interesting.  You can set up trade routes, accept the Sultan's challenge of a great Quest, or use your skills against the other players in new and sneaky ways.  However, the most interesting variant is the Storytelling Game, in which you get extra points for narrating the events that happen to your character in the most evocative and moving way.  I love the preface to the description of these rules:
"Warning: Don't be surprised if you feel a little awkward the first time you play this version of the game. YOU HAVE NEVER DONE THIS BEFORE! There aren't any other games like this. However, if you are the adventuresome type of person that will buy this game, you are the kind of person who likes innovation and new experiences."
Now, since the goal of Obscure RPG Appreciation Day isn't just to dust off old games, but to revive, rethink, and remix the heck out of them, I wanted to do something more than just review.  I got an idea from the extensive lists of possibilities in Arabian Nights for some random tables that may help Game Masters in other games generate interesting situations.  So, break out your big purple d30 and start rolling...

Source:  Studio Arkhein

Your player characters are coming across some random person.  Who is it?  What's their backstory?  How can a simple random encounter propel along the fun in new and interesting ways?  In other words,

What's up with this random NPC?

RECENT HISTORY:  They have recently --

(1) escaped from being kidnapped or held as a slave,
(2) attacked some other party and now are bloodied,
(3) hidden from a pursuer,
(4) made the bargain of the century,
(5) bartered away something precious, and realized they were cheated,
(6) beaten their servant,
(7) conversed with someone else known to the PCs,
(8) courted their true love,
(9) drank their fill and are barely able to walk,
(10) entered a secret chamber and emerged with a treasure,
(11) examined a clue in the area that the PCs may have missed,
(12) been following someone,
(13) groveled for their lives, and escaped to tell the tale,
(14) helped out a beggar,
(15) hired a new servant, and are regretting it,
(16) honored a new ruler, and are in that ruler's good graces,
(17) opened a secret tomb that has been locked for decades,
(18) prayed for their heart's desire, and got it,
(19) punished someone, unfairly,
(20) asked a question, and learned more than they bargained for,
(21) robbed a merchant,
(22) sought aid from nearby townspeople,
(23) snuck out of a place they shouldn't have been,
(24) studied an ancient tome and learned about a hidden treasure,
(25) traveled back from a far land,
(26) tricked another group of adventurers with a clever lie,
(27) used a powerful magic item, which backfired,
(28) waited a dozen years for a loved one, and was spurned,
(29) was offered a gift by a powerful person, turned it down, and was banished,
(30) saw a strange creature that nobody believes exists.

BASIC CHARACTER TRAITS:  The NPC is a ___ type of person:

(1) beautiful
(2) foolish
(3) crafty
(4) hypnotic
(5) wise
(6) practical joker
(7) needy
(8) bumbling
(9) kindly
(10) bloodthirsty
(11) wealthy
(12) playful
(13) fearful
(14) sad
(15) strange
(16) mysterious
(17) talkative
(18) destitute
(19) lovesick
(20) wicked
(21) puissant
(22) greedy
(23) repentant
(24) skillful
(25) possessed
(26) dangerous
(27) noble
(28) mad
(29) lonely
(30) happy

CURRENT STATUS:  The NPC is now --

(1) Accursed  (bad luck always happens to him/her)
(2) in Beast Form  (transformed into an ape-like creature)
(3) Beloved  (someone out there is obsessed with the NPC)
(4) Blessed  (fantastic luck; opposite of "Accursed")
(5) Crippled  (moves at one-third normal rate)
(6) Determined  (nothing will change his/her course of action)
(7) Diseased  (and possibly contagious; don't get too close!)
(8) Enslaved  (by a cruel master)
(9) Ensorcelled  (doing some wizard's bidding; unable to break free)
(10) Envious  (NPC is hotly jealous of a rival)
(11) Fated  (NPC knows a grim prophecy involving his/her own future)
(12) Grief Stricken  (broken hearted and unable to eat/sleep well)
(13) Imprisoned  (or just released/escaped, depending on where PCs find the NPC)
(14) Insane  (at times, he/she seems normal, but just wait!)
(15) Lost  (on his/her way home, the NPC has gone way off course)
(16) Love Struck  (NPC is enthralled and will do anything to win the beloved)
(17) Married  (roll for whether happily or unhappily)
(18) Newly Rich  (and ready to spend it all)
(19) On Pilgrimage  (in the midst of a voyage to a holy site)
(20) Outlaw  (on the lam from the law... choose nearby town where crime took place)
(21) Pursued  (by a jealous rival)
(22) Respected  (what? you don't know this NPC?  he/she is a local hero!)
(23) wearing a Robe of Honor  (which gains him/her entrance to the best places)
(24) Scorned  (very publicly humiliated for doing something foolish)
(25) Sex-Changed  (victim of bad magic... but who will believe him/her?)
(26) Sultan  (or other kind of king, in disguise)
(27) Ugly  (hideous visage, but quick-witted and kindly)
(28) Under Geas  (NPC must fulfill a task: part oath, part curse)
(29) Vizier  (or other right-hand man to king, on a secret mission)
(30) Wounded  (you don't want to see what's up his sleeve)

Note:  The "recent history" entries come from the actions that you can choose in response to an encounter, listed at the top of the Arabian Nights Reaction Matrices.  The descriptive adjectives also come from those matrices.  The "current status" entries are from, well, the list of possible Statuses (Stati?) that an Arabian Nights character can have at any one time.

Have fun with these!  And check out the game if you get a chance.  There's also a newer version from 2009, which I haven't seen up close.  It's said they added hundreds of new options to the Book of Tales, but also streamlined the game and removed some of the optional add-on rules.


  1. I like 5 for the first set, 6 for the second and 9 for the third. Bear in mind, I'm just trying to keep all of that straight in my head without a basic understanding of how this remix is supposed to work. As a storyteller, I just like putting those together as my what if? scenario.

    1. You'd make a fine Dungeon Master. :-)

      The goal is to just mix and match to your heart's content... NPCs (non-player characters) are the antagonists, the extras, the love interests, and so on -- everyone in the world whose role isn't taken on by a player.

      Rolling dice is one good way to present you with combinations and permutations that you'd never have come up with on your own. If you're inclined to go along with such randomness, then to make it "work" you've got to fill in the gaps in order to make sense of it.

    2. Games are at the heart of freedom.

    3. Correction: Games are at the crystalline heart of freedom.

    4. :-) One day I must read Finite and Infinite Games by James Carse. It's been highly recommended to me, but I've never bitten the bullet...

  2. Cool! That one sounds like fun. You know, I saw the "Dungeon" board game on the shelf at Barnes & Noble yesterday. I'd completely forgotten about Dungeon!

    You've got me jonesing. It might be time to renew an old hobby before too long...

    1. Aha, yes, I heard they put out a new version. I prefer the old ways, but it's still basically the same game. :-)