28 October 2010

Inspiration -- The Lions of al-Rassan

Ameican trade paperback of The Lions of Al-Rassan


Perhaps more than any other book, Kay's The Lions of al-Rassan has inspired me to work on this setting.  I first read it maybe three years ago.  Like much of Kay's work, Lions is a fantasy novel with historical roots.  Lions draws it's inspiration from medieval Spain during the reconquista.  In our history, most of Spain was conquered by Islamic Berbers and Arabs early in the 8th century.  For the next 500 years, Spain teetered back and forth between Christian and Muslim, finally becoming entirely Christian by 1492.  In the novel, al-Rassan is the site of several small kingdoms, all seeking to gain at the expense of one another.  There are three major cultural groups: the Jaddites (Christian analogs who worship the sun), the Aserites (Muslim analogs who worship the stars), and the Kindath (Jewish analogs who worship the moon).  The novel begins when an Asherite king is assassinated (by a bard named Ammar), the Kindath quarter is burned (causing a healer named Jehane to flee), and generally all hell breaks loose.  Soon after, we meet Rodrigo Belmonte, Jaddite general turned mercenary, who is modeled after the actual el-Cid.

I love this book.  It tells an interesting and exciting story, to be sure, but what takes it beyond a good fantasy novel is Kay's descrpition and exploration of culture.  al-Rassan, like the real al-Andalus, is a complex melding of three major religious cultures.  Kay shows us that while exploring the tensions between culture and individuality, all the while telling a compelling story.

This isn't a book review, so I'll stop there.

Lions gives me lots of things to include in a gaming setting.  The celestial analogs of the three major monotheistic religions is something I am tempted to appropriate whole cloth, as is the general socio-politcal state of affairs in al-Rassan.  City-states, ostensibly divided by religion, but with intrigue and conflict that goes well-beyond religious difference.  As in Tigana, there's a light touch of magic (less so here, actually) -- one of Belmonte's sons has the gift of precognition.  Finally, there are the characters themselves, which would hopefully serve as inspiration for both PC's and NPC's.  Ammar, for example, is a famous poet as well as an infamous assassin.  He's also immanently likable, both by the reader and the other characters.  I'd like to have characters of that depth and complexity in the setting (which may mean that, system wise, I need to go with a story game a la Burning Wheel rather than something like D&D).

So, religious systems, socio-political ideas, and system suggestions all from Lions of al-Rassan.

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