Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Stranger in a Strange Land

Do you have a strange, special snowflake campaign setting that steers away from D&D tropes? Would it make more sense for the PCs to be "strangers in a strange land" than natives, given that the players aren't going to get to know the setting well enough to behave like they're indigenous? There is plenty of historical precedent for groups of adventurers stranded in foreign lands of which they know nothing, with no way to get home. For instance:

The Russian Expeditionary Force in France was a brigade-strength unit sent from Russia to the Western Front to fight alongside France in the First World War. A considerable portion were Estonians. In one of those bizarre twists of globalization in which the First and Second World War abounded, a group of them ended up serving with the 1st Moroccan Division: Russians and Estonians in France, fighting with North Africans against Germans.

The Czech Legion was formed from Czech and Slovak volunteers and served with the Imperial Russian Army; after the revolution in 1917 they began to trek Eastwards through Siberia all the way to Vladivostok to get on board ships bound for France. On the way they tangled with the Bolsheviks and became involved in the Siberian Intervention, when Japanese, American, French, Canadian, British and Italian troops landed in Vladivostok to support the Whites against the Reds in the Russian Civil War. It is also said that, on the way, the Legion ended up in possession of 8 train carriages of gold bullion from the Imperial Reserve. It is also said that some of the Czechs remained in Siberia into the 1920s, and helped the Koreans defeat the Japanese at the Battle of Qingshanli.

After the surrender of the Emperor in September 1945, thousands of Japanese troops remained in China fighting alongside the nationalists against warlords and communists. Some were there for years afterwards.

The Blue Division were Spanish volunteers in the German invasion of the USSR in 1941. In total 286 of them were held captive after the way until 1954, when they were repatriated to Spain.

Basques from Northern Spain were fishing cod off Newfoundland from the beginning of the 16th Century; some even argue the Basques may have discovered North America before Columbus (though after the Vikings, obviously). Some of the earliest trade jargons in the New World were mixtures of Basque and local Native American tongues.

The notion of a bunch of rubes fumbling their way around a weird place they know nothing about, then, is remarkably common in human history. There isn't much of a better excuse to set players loose on a hex crawl than "you are stranded here for reason x, now what?"


  1. Xenophon called and he wants their reputation back.

  2. I prefer the players to be strangers in any but the most generic of settings. I just can't be bothered with making a distinction between what the players know and what their characters know.

  3. Replies
    1. Awesome. I never heard about this. What a marvelous thing is Internet. Mila esker!

  4. I think Empire of the Petal Throne would work better if this was an option.

    Another real-life example is the Indian troops who ended up in Europe fighting with the German Army during WW2.

    1. "Boat people in Jakalla" was actually the standard option in EPT since the very beginning, anarchist.

      "For convenience’ sake, it is assumed that all player characters arrive in a small boat at the great Tsolyáni port city of Jakálla...Each player will have with him a small sum of money. The Tsolyáni themselves do not use money much...but foreigners will need coin...Players may also attempt to sell their small boat for a sum up to 150 K...All travellers and castaways are housed in special quarters in the foreigners’ area of the city at a cost of 10 K. per person per day. The food is abominable -- stomach complaints and diarrhea are common. Strangers are not permitted to enter Jakálla proper, since most peoples of this world are quite xenophobic. It is advisable for beginning players to remain within the foreigners’ quarter until contacted by some nonplayer Tsolyáni character, who will provide them with a mission...Players who do attempt to enter Jakálla at this stage run the risk of making errors in speaking Tsolyáni or in the intricate rules of Imperial etiquette. Each turn a 6-sided die must be rolled, and a roll of 6 indicates that some such act has been committed...Upon reaching the third Level of Experience, a player character may travel freely within the Empire. Upon attaining 6th Level, he is granted Imperial citizenship."

    2. Yes, but I think you're meant to be from places that have a similar culture to the Empire.

    3. So at their most alien they're...Russians in France?

  5. The 4e game I DM has been running for two years now and the players love this aspect of the campaign. They are from the Forgotten Realms continent (can't remember what it is actually called now) but came over on a boat to a newly discovered continent at the beginning of the campaign. The new world is an Amazon jungle analog and I have loved springing tribe after tribe on the PCs, all with different traditions and worldviews and ideas about moral behavior. At this point they have worked their way across a major mountain range and have made contact with a group of coastal city states loosely modeled on Sumeria.

  6. Just a couple more examples from Spanish history (sorry, the one I know better):

    - The famous International Brigades and Condor Legion, foreign soldiers who fought for the republic and national sides in the Spanish Civil War.

    - Isidoro Panduro, a Spanish soldier left stranded in Denmark. One of his descendants would eventually create the Panduro Hobbies hobby stores.

    - "Los últimos de las Filipinas" (The last of the Philippines), the soldiers of the last Spanish bastion is the Philippines, who endured siegue during a whole year after the war was over. The refused to believed what the Philippines told them: than Spain had already surrendered.

    - The Spanish Road in which many soldiers got lost or stranded while traversing half europe to reinforce the Spanish regiments in war against the Netherlands.

    Sorry for the non-asked for info, but I'm a lover of the military history...

  7. Philip II of Macedony had Gauls hired as mercenaries to fight the Thracians.

  8. First thing that came to mind was Twilight 2000.

  9. This also used to be how most fantasy stories were structured before fantasy became a genre: