Scimitars and flying carpets: what "Arabian Nights"-style roleplaying games exist?

Prince of Persia classicLast week I saw Prince of Persia. While I wouldn’t call it a classic for the ages (it turns out that “the best video game adaptation to date!” is not especially high praise), it did get me wondering what sort of “1001 Arabian Nights”-inspired roleplaying games are out there. While I’m most interested in the “flying carpets, evil djinn, and sinister viziers” style of game, I wouldn’t mind a more historical game, either.

I was surprised to find that there isn’t a whole lot out there. Granted, it’s a niche genre within a niche hobby, but if samurai Japan and Arthurian Britain have managed have long-running roleplaying games, you’d think somebody would’ve kept the lamp of Arabian gaming burning over the years. At any rate, here’s what I’ve found; if you know of any I’ve missed, please let me know in the comments!

Al QadimThe Arabian Nights-style game that springs to mind immediately is Al-Qadim for the long-defunct AD&D 2nd edition. At one point I owned this rulebook and was impressed by it (it was lavishly illustrated in full color, I recall), but if I still own it, it’s buried in a box in my basement somewhere. This was pretty heavy on the fantasy ends of things, and to my knowledge did not attempt to tie itself into real-life history at all. Has anybody played it, and can you comment on the general quality of the line?

GURPS Arabian Nights (for 3rd edition) is available as a PDF, and I know nothing about it except what the product description lists—it looks like a nice combination of both fantastic and historical “Arabia.” Tempting to grab a copy purely on the strength of other GURPS historical supplements.

Paizo’s Legacy of Fire adventure path is set in the Arabia-analogue region of their published campaign setting for 3rd edition D&D. I actually ran the first few adventures in this series last year, and it was fun, although it didn’t quite evoke the flying-carpets feel of Prince of Persia. That may have been my failing as GM, but I also think Legacy of Fire is meant to be D&D first and Prince of Persia second. That said, there are a few supporting supplements that flesh out Paizo’s fantasy version of the Middle East, and one of them has a bonafide flying carpet on the cover. And hey, if all faux-Zoroastrian clerics looked as good as this, I’d convert in a heartbeat.

Tales of the Caliphate NightsPerhaps most promising-looking is Paradigm Concepts’ Tales of the Caliphate Nights. It looks grounded in semi-historical Arabia and appears to cover Islam in a somewhat serious manner—certainly one of the most intimidating parts of gaming in this genre.

Listing these out, it seems that there actually is a decent array of 1001 Nights-type games… they’re just spread across several different game systems (some of them defunct), so you’d need to be willing to loot from several sources and port the end results into the system of your choice.

What good books have I missed that support Prince of Persia-style gaming, or a more historical version thereof?

Update: I just remembered another one: Veil of Night for Vampire: the Dark Ages. I’m guessing this supplement does not have a lot in the way of light-hearted princess-rescuing flying-carpet action… but if I’m wrong, please oh please correct me, because, well, Prince of Persia where the titular prince is a vampire sounds kind of awesome, in a terrible sort of way.

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5 Comments

  1. gnomeslair says:

    Lovely round-up (and write-up) and you got me searching for my Al Qadim books too. I know they are somewhere. Well, I hope.

  2. Andy says:

    Thanks, Gnomeslair. Did you play Al Qadim much? I’m afraid my copy (I had the paperback version of the core rules, but no supplements) mostly sat unused on my shelf. But I remember thinking that the authors and artists had captured the feel of the genre pretty well for a D&D sourcebook.

  3. gnomeslair says:

    I remember it being beautiful too, and no, I haven’t played more than a couple sessions of Al Qadim. It must have been over 15 years ago, but I believe it was a lovely setting and a truly great book.

  4. Harald says:

    I used to own the Al Quadim book, as well as a few of the expansions, but the whole lot has been lost in one of the many moves between now and then. I’ve missed it on more than one occasion though.

    I did use it extensively for a while, mostly as a part of the Faerun campaigns I ran in the way-back, and I seem to remember it being quite well put together in terms of flavour and playability. And it *was* a bloody beautiful book.

  5. Charlie says:

    I have Al Qadim and several supplements. I took many parts for my last Pathfinder campaign called Dusk.

    While the suits at TSR where tinkering with other books, the authors here were able to design for story and game. The results are pretty amazing. The story is great, the rules for the time were well thought out, and the maps still look good.

    The background will also stretch roleplaying boundries. One example is a brother killing his sister for betraying the family honor by running away with the man she loves rather than go through with an arranged marriage–a very non-D&D concept and tough for most Westerners to swallow.

    So you get the feel of strict Islam without all the names. But temples in the games are called mosques so the authors didn’t completely shy away from the terms. I backed the controversial stuff out of Dusk but with a mature group it could be quite interesting.

    There was also Ylarum for basic D&D, Aesheba: Greek Africa which isn’t Arabian but is nearby, and Haunaptra from Green Ronin which is fantasy Egypt.

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