Kingdoms of Kalamar: The Death of Kings
Setting and Adaptations
Our game takes place in the Duchy of Dodera in the Empire of Kalamar (for now). The players are a small group of regulators who worked odd jobs for a Baron of a neighboring nation when they were younger and find themselves reunited for a few odd jobs out of the capitol city of Bet Dodera. Some are running from their past, some are looking for a new future, and some simply need the damn coin.
The Kingdoms of Kalamar is a fantasy role-playing game campaign setting created by Kenzer and Company and released in 1994. Shortly after Wizards of the Coast announced the 3rd Edition of Dungeons & Dragons, they announced jointly with Kenzer & Company that Kenzer had acquired a license to produce official Dungeons & Dragons material, using the Kalamar setting exclusively. While not as well known as setting such as Forgotten Realms, the setting has a loyal following and has received praise for its consistency and realism. Kenzer and Company has also made the Kingdoms of Kalamar the official setting of its own role playing fantasy game, HackMaster. (source: Wikipedia)
Core Books for this Setting
Worthy reads for anyone wanting to play in the Kalamar Setting are the Player’s Primer, the Campaign Setting, and the Player’s Guide to the Sovereign Lands. These were produced for 3rd Edition (D&D) and cover all of the basics in a fantastically well-produced way.
The Player’s Primer offers “in-character” perspectives on the major regions, history, and races of the world (called Tellene). This book, alone, makes me such a huge fan of Kalamar as a place for fantasy RPG experiences. Our games, traditionally, run character and story heavy. A real, ever-present goal of every game and every session (of this or other systems and settings) is to make a compelling and interesting narrative and chain that to the improvisionations and undirected development of characters in it. The Player’s Primer offers a new or experienced player a chance to get a jump start on shaping the beliefs, attitudes, and opinions of their own PC and know how the rest of the world is likely to react to them.
A short example is the history and institutionalization of racism in the Western nations of Brandobia (more “species-ism”, but we’ll just use the word “racism” as it evokes a more honest imagery for most). While the world, generally understands that Brandobia is a collection of old nations that long for an empire long gone, that they’re primarily human and have huge cultural conflicts and problems with demihumans (elves, primarily, though other races have been under the boot of Brandobia in centuries past), someone from Brandobia has a very different take on it. Many of them see their world as truly beset (with real examples of death and destruction by what they might consider “terrorists”) by Elves and other species that plague their civilization over old claims and grievances that haven’t been historically relevant for generations. Even then, those from the north feel differently than those in the south… and so on and so on.
The Campaign Setting is a well designed piece of source material for any player group or GM. Most notably, the level of detail Kenzer & Co. put into the martial, economic, and sociological history of the world shines when you read through the different nations and cities and learn about how they are intertwined. The language expansion (from “vanilla” D&D) is apparent here, as well. In Kalamar, you find there is no real “common” tongue. That geographical and cultural barriers are further emphasized through linguistic ones and the realism of why two closely located nations might have struggled with conflicts can be felt when you play out the frustrations of communicating with people that simply don’t speak your language and have no need to (it also makes “Comprehend Languages” so much more interesting as a spell).
Details about the many (active and real) gods of Tellene, examples of alphabets, calendars, timelines, gorgeous maps and even details about how goods and weaponry vary by region… all of it serves to provide a feel of hugeness to the world. I’ve both played and ran games in Forgotten Realms and Eberron, I’ve played other systems and settings within those—but one reason our group goes back to Kalamar is the amount of realism and vastness it provides. I never felt like Forgotten Realms (outside of the larger cosmos of it) was a “big” place or a place one could be isolated or lost in. But, watching players concern themselves with hiring people with or taking skill ranks in knowledges like Nobility or History or extra languages because they find themselves going to strange lands and fearing the conflict of not knowing or understanding local customs… that’s RP gold.
The Players Guide to the Sovereign Lands is where the crunch is. Hobgoblins are playable, Half-Orcs (largely) are not (they’re simply VERY rare to the point of not being an available playable race). The additional classes (fleshing out practical applications of many common classes, like having Rogue available but offering Brigand as an additional, realistic class) and additional feats provide an opportunity for players to further shape their characters into great story characters. That there are so many feats that lend themselves to stylistic play (feats that represent being of noble blood or having regional aptitudes by being simply from a different nation) help make any party a collection of multi-dimensional adventurers that will have (often) interesting conflict between each other as well as the world at large.
Adaptations We’ve Made
Some things have needed “editing” in order to make the 3rd ed world work in a 5th ed setting. Most notably, the expansion of the Kalamar world to accept some of the new playable (though uncommon) races like Dragonborn and Tieflings. In truth, when you look to the adventures and supplemental books, you find evidence that both races already exist in Kalamar, but are exceedingly rare.
We found that to be acceptable.
While the “realism” of the world demands a huge restriction on demihumans in general, they do exist. Demihuman players should feel this is a human world, generally, and appreciate the few nations or conclaves or cities where their kind aren’t simply citizens of those human empires but their own rulers. And for our Dragonborn and Tiefling players we’ve edited the history of Kalamar just a little to provide a hint of backing rather than none.
Notably, Dragonborn have probably always existed, but have been driven out of the world at large and into the corners where humanity and other civilized races are little seen. Only in the last century or so have they started coming down out of their mountains and monastaries (it made sense that as godlike as old dragons are, their kin would collectivize and even worship their ancestors as near gods) and forests and temples. Their presence is shocking to rural areas of Tellene, or less cosmopolitan regions—but in highly developed places, they’ll have been seen and even afforded citizenships in the last few generations.
Tieflings are a more damaged race than that—instead of being a hidden people now coming out into the world, they are the finest example of a bastard people with no true home anywhere. In the darker ages of Kalamar, they’d have been simply killed as babies (and often were, as rare as their parentage was). But, now, while most priests and conservative areas of the world look upon them as dangerous and aberrant things, enough of them have wandered from here to there or shown interest and been interesting to academies and colleges in the major nations that they’re afforded much the same treatment as any hobgoblin soldier… something maybe evil, something to fear, in many places something to destroy, but undeniably, they are a part of the world and laws and custom find it harder and harder to “de-humanize” (in a way). When you live in a world where only the wealthy or powerful have the resources and time to study magic, creatures like Tieflings with their highly developed social skills and accessible magic found friends in those circles.
Other changes we’ve made have been due to story elements from our previous Kalamar game. A “Living World” has made gameplay for us more interesting. While the events of “Any Port in a Storm” were a few hundred years ago, some lingering history has influenced this world we play in now.
Regarding the deities and churches of Tellene, the Parish of the Prolific Coin (the formerly Lawful Neutral church of profit and commerce) has turned Lawful Evil and their habits in the world have turned more predatory… think more Wall Street than Merchant. This was due to a (fabled) death of the Landlord (their god) and a replacement by a outsider made of avarice and greed. Other changes will come out as the story progresses.