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Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Arrows of Indra: Introducing Your Group to the Bharata Kingdoms Setting

Recently, a gamer who had just purchased Arrows of Indra asked me this question:

"I've been looking at trying an Arrows one-shot with my group to try the game out, but I'm a little unsure how to best introduce people to the concepts. I'm not that familiar with the underlying myth, and nor are my players, and I don't want to run into the Tekumel it's-all-just-too-much-to-take-in issue. "

So I thought I'd address this here on the blog.

This is what I would suggest: do pretty much the same you would do in any new fantasy setting.

What I normally do is start out in a little village (in my campaign, they started in the Matsya kingdom; close enough to the main area to be accessible to the action, but just a bit out in the boonies, and not immediately affected by the war with the Maghadan Empire).

The village was a few hundred people, there was a small temple, the basic tradesmen, etc. I had a couple of players be from right around there, and a couple from other kingdoms (and I gave them a bit of information about what those kingdoms were like).

Start with a local adventure; mine was about a woman from the village who comes begging to the PCs to rescuer her boy, who has been kidnapped by bandits (who live somewhere in a small forest less than a full day's walk away from the village). I put in the twist that actually the boy had run away, entranced by the idea of bandit life and not having to do chores. Along the way, the PCs ran into some dangerous animals and some monkeys (that the Vanara PC was able to manipulate into helping against the bandits).

In the second adventure, I had the PCs go to a bigger city, and get hired by a noble to chase down his teenage son and bring him back by force to the city; the son had run off to join Krishna's army. In the process the PCs ran into some undead lurking around, and the Vanara pickpocketed a valuable magic item from a dangerous Sidhi (which would lead to assassins hunting the party for some time to come). The PCs at that point decided it'd be cool to go join Krishna themselves, and participated in the liberation of Krishna's home city-state from Krishna's evil uncle and the uncle's army of mercenaries and rakshasas.

Anyways, the point is you start small, and then build up from there.

And here's one more tip, for you, as a GM: forget that it's India. Think of it as any other fantasy world; you've never been to Middle Earth, or Faerun either. Most of the standard conventions of any Sword & Sorcery world would apply in the Bharata Kingdoms too: city states, crumbling Kingdoms, an evil empire looming on the horizon, monsters and bandits on the outlands, a group of princes looking to raze a forest of monsters to carve out a new capital, etc.

The PCs in AoI do exactly what PCs do in any S&S campaign. They go off looking for adventures, treasure, magic items, fame, and eventually to reach positions of power and their own authority. Don't get hung up on the notion that the setting is "foreign". Introduce any foreign parts only bit by bit, as needed. The one big difference might be some of the religious elements, but if you're playing in a Conan type setting, or in Mystara, or wherever, you'd still need to learn about the religious differences too, wouldn't you? There's also things like caste rules, but these are pretty straightforward for the most part. And the clans, but mostly what Clans are for is to give you a built in network of contacts, information, and obligations to any PC.

Don't get hung up on it being exotic, it's not. The ancient origins of our own western culture lies in India too, to a significant extent: many of our ancestor's later myths were connected to theirs, many of the values are the same. Its not any MORE "alien" playing a game set in ancient India than in Cimmeria, and maybe even less alien than one set in ancient egypt. There are angels (devas) and demons (asuras), there's magic weapons, armors, scrolls (sutras), and rings. There's monsters that are a bit different, but a Pisacha is not any weirder than an Otyugh; probably less weird, in fact. And in AoI, the rules should be pretty familiar to any D&D player from the get go, for the most part.

I think that's a common mistake: people hear "India" and think that the emphasis needs to be on how different it is; but actually, you'll see things will work far better if you put the emphasis on how similar it is, and make those differences that there are stand out as flavor elements, no differently than you would in any other new fantasy setting.

"Oh look, there are flying winged cats in this fantasy city" is no different than "oh look, a tribe of talking monkey-men!"; nor is "in this island people worship a god of water and sailing by ritually drowning someone" or "In this island people worship the mountain in the middle of the island with a gift-giving festival".

In fact, if you don't know your mahabharata, you probably couldn't tell which of the last two lines was from Epic India, and which was from some fantasy novel.

If you have any questions, about either setting or system, I'll be glad to help out here.


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