Initial Thoughts on Mythic India

So no sooner do I make a post about the projects that I’ve got going on at the moment, but I start knocking out the “in progress” stuff almost immediately. Obviously that leaves a hole, and my nature abhors a creative vacuum.

I’ve not committed to it yet, but I’m toying with doing a “mythic India” version of my Golden Scroll of Justice book, which was centered on mythic China. So, essentially a supplement to provide Indian-themed races, classes, skills, magic, and monsters to your 1E, ADD, LL, SW, and so forth, games.

The obvious player in this sphere is the RPG Pundit’s excellent Arrows of Indra, which I absolutely love. So if I do decide to go this route, I will be consciously trying to take a different direction than the one he took. Where his work is firmly based in history, with magic thrown in, mine will be analogous to “Medieval Europe is to AD&D as Medieval India is to mythic India”.

Terrific game, and one I want to
consciously avoid copying

In other words, I’ll play (much) faster and looser with the material, in the same way that Gygax and Arneson took Biblical miracles and turned them into spells (part water) and magic items (staff of the serpent), and took Ancient and Medieval European realities and turned them into 2nd century BC druids, 11th century clerics, and 17th century cavaliers rubbing shoulders in gleeful defiance of historical timelines.

History and mythology will be an inspiration, but not a guide. The tropes of Dungeons and Dragons will be maintained, and the source material will be changed to serve them, if needed.

But there are other fantasy India products out there. Against the Dark Yogi. Sahasra. Tales from the Ganges (sadly no longer in print). Probably others, too. I’ll want to make sure I do something that stands out from that crowd, and takes the source material in a unique direction.

In one way, I have an advantage because I’m putting everything into the larger 1st edition meta-setting and using the ADD rules. For instance, take the elements. In classic Hindu cosmology, there are five elements – air, earth, fire, water, and void. So, like I did with Golden Scroll, I’ll have to account not only for the new void elemental, but the resulting para- and quasi- elementals that result from the introduction of yet another elemental plane. (That’s in addition to the elemental plane of metal which Golden Scroll introduced.)

As an aside, I love the metaphysical ambiguity that having such relative planar geography causes. It’s one of those things you can just say “it’s a mystery that sages cannot explain” and it adds depth to the whole cosmology.

It’s also the case that I will not be including a setting with the book. Like AD&D and Golden Scroll, there will be some “implied setting” stuff by necessity, but this will be a sourcebook for DMs who want to create their own mythic India, not a setting unto itself.

I want to turn this into a gameable mechanic

Since I’d be using Golden Scroll as a model, I’d want something to use in the same way that I used the skill system for kung fu. The obvious choice is yoga. There are some pretty out-there types of yoga, many of which claim all sorts of supernatural benefits. That will be my framework.

New sub-classes of clerics and mages are a given. Races? Monkey-men (vanaras) to be sure. I’d like to come up with at least one more. I’m thinking apsaras and gandharvas might be a good choice for the basis of a new sub-type of elf. Pointed ears aside, they could be good choices; associated with music, dancing, and sex. Remember, these aren’t supposed to be exact correspondences – in a game where “medusa” becomes a type of monster rather than the specific name of one of only three Gorgons, it makes sense, in much the same way as the Norse Alfar don’t map to elves in the details, but they do in the broad strokes. Is there an Indian analogue for a dwarf? Research will tell (or maybe someone in the comments).

I’m not saying it’s aliens, but…

Now, much like I tried to make Golden Scroll an amalgam of Chinese folklore and mythology along with some of the tropes of modern kung-fu movies, so too would I really love to figure out a way to bring in some Bollywood tropes into the mix. Is this my chance to write rules for romance? Or will I be able to bring in some sort of weird song and dance number into adventures. This will take a lot of thought, but as they say “you make rules for things you want to happen in the game.” I would add as a corollary that “you make things meaningful, fun, and rewarding, or else the players will ignore them.” Ahem.

Finally, I have to put some ancient astronaut weirdness in here. Several episodes of the History Channel show Ancient Aliens dealt with India, and specifically called out vimanas as being flying craft or spaceships that would sit on top of Hindu temples. Oh MAN do I have to include that.

Now, this doesn’t mean I’m necessarily throwing my hat into this particular ring. I’ve got a bunch of other ideas that are percolating in my mind, which I might talk through in some subsequent posts. But getting these sorts of initial thoughts down helps me organize things in my mind, which is a good thing.

Written by 

Wargamer and RPG'er since the 1970's, author of Adventures Dark and Deep, Castle of the Mad Archmage, and other things, and proprietor of the Greyhawk Grognard blog.

4 thoughts on “Initial Thoughts on Mythic India

  1. A PC race of nagas comes to mind… alien nagas and naga-human hybrids, maybe (shades of "Aliens!")?

    Song and dance can perhaps work some kind of "social magic," where the group who perform the song and dance get some sort of benefit, and the leader gets an even greater benefit. Each song/dance routine might be specific to a kingdom, region, city, village, or even clan or family, and there could be dances that are common, and when one group dances one dance and another opposing group dances another, they combine into something greater (hey, there's that romance aspect, eh?)

    Also, you have to have amazing, weird, and awesome siege weapons and other strange and powerful weapons and maneuvers. That flying-in-a-circle-formed-of-shields-by-being-thrown-by-catapult in that one movie is too good not to steal… er, borrow!

  2. looking fwd to this – i do like arrows of indra

    Id be tempted to do a game set perhaps post asoka to include buddhism and jainism
    i guess from my reading with a tamil bias i don't think the cast system is as solid as brahmins and Arrows of Indra would suggest. I think there are some precedents in indian cinema for fighting women (possibly they seem retire when marries). Many of the mythic races in india ae related to historic ppl which has made me a bit wary of using them. Wish GURPS had done it.

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