In 1981, while I was attending Princeton, I created the world of Narth as my first roleplaying campaign, using Advanced Dungeons and Dragons (first edition). Originally run under the auspices of the Whig-Clio Simulation Games Union (now The Princeton Games Union), I really didn't expect it to last beyond my senior year of college in 1984. But to my surprise it has kept going strong through nearly three decades of evolution and growth, as well as through maybe twenty or so players. In the course of that growth, it has spawned at least three subcampaigns, including Narth 2000, which was originally run both on Apple's now-defunct eWorld network and on IRC.
This page is here for the use of the players in my current campaign. It is intended as a reference, their way to access a lot of the material that otherwise remains relegated to two bound volumes and a massive 3-ring binder sitting on my bookshelf at home.
I used to have a notice here warning off TSR's lawyers, given that now-defunct company's hostile attitudes towards online AD&D sites. However, when they were bought out by Wizards of the Coast, their online policy became quite reasonable. Most recently -- that is, since Wizards was bought out by Hasbro -- there doesn't appear to even be a D&D/AD&D online policy at all any more! (Believe me, I've searched their site -- the closest I've been able to find was an extensive online policy for Magic: The Gathering pages.)
The Evolution of Narth
Narth had a complex origin. My original goal was simply to create my own campaign setting after playing in a friend's game for the best part of a year. However, I wanted to make use of all the fragmentary bits of background implicit and explicit in the original AD&D Player's Handbook and Dungeon Master's Guide to create it, so that I could drop things like the artifacts into the game without having to change their histories or backstories to fit my world. So I pored over those two books page by page, writing down every name, country, city or other scrap of information from Gary Gygax's original Greyhawk campaign which had made its way into them. I ended up filling an entire pad of legal paper with my scrawled notes.
I was also a little disturbed by the homogeneity of the typical D&D fantasy world -- white humans everywhere, with the occasional Chinese monk. That was boring -- as well as vaguely racist. (It didn't help that this vaguely racist stand was in fact official TSR policy. A few years after I created Narth, I tried to offer Dragon Magazine an article on using human racial types in a game world, and got told frankly, "that's what we have demihumans for.") Anyway, I wanted every human culture represented in some manner. That would also let me use all those neat religions in Dieties and Demigods that made no sense for white Europeans! Yeah, yeah... that's exactly what I wanted! (And for those white Europeans, I used the earliest versions of the Greyhawk gods and the original pantheon of the Forgotten Realms, both of which were published in Dragon Magazine in the early 80s. It was only several years later -- between 1985 and 1987 -- that I began to create Narth's own native pantheon.
I knew even before I first started sketching maps that I couldn't fit everything that I wanted on one continent (nor did I want to), so I began to build a whole planet... I used the only inhabited one that I knew of as a handy guide, but my continents were wildly different, and to hell with human history. If I wanted Babylonians next to Sumerians next to a pseudo-Islamic Arabian Nights-era Middle East-like zone next to Egyptians with pyramids, then by cracky that's what I was going to have. Some features carried over -- can't have Egyptians without a Nile River, can't have caliphs and minarets without a handy desert -- but for the most part my geography was original. I did research on real terrain and geology to make sure I didn't do anything too stupid (at least not without an in-game reason), and at the same time began mapping out ocean currents and typical weather patterns (based on other researches -- the Princeton University Library system is a wonderful resource!). I even tried to address the perennial ecological question of "what do all those monsters eat besides adventurers anyway?" (I made up a small, fast-breeding, very prolific and highly adaptable animal much like a rabbit, which sat on the food chain above grass -- or lichen for the cave-dwelling version -- and below mid-sized predators.)
At the same time, I started working up a timeline for the world, using all the information I had cribbed out of the AD&D rule books. The concept of Narth at this stage was a naturally-formed planet inhabited by races that at least had the appearance of evolving in their various environments -- gnolls and humans in the local analogue to Africa, elves and orcs in "Europe", and so on. Basing its scale around the length of approximately 10 generations of Grey Elves -- in order for there to be something in the distant past for them -- I ended up with 20,000 years of history, both recorded and not, including the first "historical" appearance of each race and the reasons for the various enmities and alliances found in AD&D's racial likes and dislikes table. I also wove into the history (and the "current events") a lot of the Greyhawk information I'd distilled from from the First Edition AD&D books. This, more than anything, shaped the "European" area of the world, now called "West Jadiwan".
When several years later I created the "native" gods of Narth, I rebuilt the world's origin and history to go along with them. But I chose not to change the cultures or geography in place -- that would have to wait for Narth 2000.
I have to admit I did get rather obsessive during the initial design phase -- I remember spending the best part of a week allocating resources and shortages to various nations in the West Jadiwan Continent so that I could work out trade routes, political relationships and the like. I decided that I wanted to give my players, whoever they would be, a chance to visit places other than "Europe", so I set up limited intercontinental shipping. This required sophisticated navigation, which required advanced timekeeping devices not available at the period of history I was emulating, so I ended up creating the concept of the "magical chronograph" -- my first step into what would later become one of my long running interests in both fiction and gaming: magitech.
That led to the "magic-as-technology-only-more-expensive" facet of Narth, something I think made it unique at the time; culturally and socially, the Jadiwan area was pretty much in the equivalent of the early Renaissance, but those with enough cash could live in a rough approximation of the late 19th or the very beginning of the 20th century as far as creature comforts, medicine and communications were concerned. (Since then, many game worlds have used the same conceit, but I like to think that I was one of the first...) I always planned to use this as the core of a "Haves-vs-Have Nots" conflict of some sort, a revolution or something, but I never got around to exploring that aspect of the world.
In any case, it was in this form that my first Narth campaign took shape. And despite its faults and occasional inanities -- I had several areas of utter ignorance which today embarrass me greatly -- the world has proven surprisingly cohesive and believable for the score or more of players who have spent anywhere from three sessions to twenty years (as of 2008) playing therein. Part of the reason for that is that Narth remains a dynamic place, where things can and do change on a day-to-day basis. And part of that dynamism has always been a collaborative approach with my players. Narth as it exists today is as much the work of my players as it is mine, and they have my eternal gratitude.
This page is dedicated to the first of those players, the six who made it through the initial year's shakedown games and whose characters ranged from the standard medieval adventurer types through a Shao-Lin monk all the way to a transplanted Amerindian warrior:
- Iain Bason
- Chris Cohen
- Sean Fitts
- Adam Frankl
- Roger Hain
- Randy Peters
Table of Contents
- About the game
- Religion and Cosmology
- The Sidhai
- Will you be adding more info on Narth to the Web?
- I have a question about Narth...
You can also check out the Narth 2000 pages for information, but be warned that it refers to a later era on Narth, played using a different game system. Some of the material there may not be applicable to the AD&D version of the game world.
Narth Classic was created for, and continues to be played in, Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, First Edition. Some parts of the game system -- bards and monks, just to name two -- have been replaced or expanded with rules variants found in Dragon magazine over the years. Some aspects of the gods of Narth are handled using Wizards of the Coast's now out-of-print book, The Primal Order.
Addendum: Limited use of some Second Edition material has proven not to be disruptive of game play. I will consider options from the Second Edition on a case-by-case basis; I do not rule them out. Third Edition is just too different from First to blend in options piecemeal; if the game ever goes to Third Edition, it will be rebuilt from the ground up. And Fourth Edition has only just come out as I write this; the reactions to it that I have heard do not encourage me to even try it.
The actual derivation of "Narth" in the Common Tongue is unknown. The most reasonable etymology traces it back to the Sidhaisin word naryth, which simply means "here". Some claim it is a well-eroded fossil of the phrase narra(s) irith "Home of Man" from the lore-tongue of the nomadic peoples who settled what is now Dichoss and Flaness more than two thousand years ago. Gnomish priests of Meje assert puckishly that it is in fact a word from the language of the gods which means "Outside the Hole". The Dwarves claim it comes from their tongue, via humans mangling their term na-ari-zhath "the Matrix".
Within the context of Narth, a "church" is the organized body which worships a specific deity. A church with little or no political power, or a very small number of worshippers, would be called a "cult", but this is often considered a perjorative term, usually associated with worship of evil or otherwise inimical deities.
The actual physical building in which worship services are held is usually called a temple. For those religions which worship deities with nature aspects or spheres, the site of worship is usually a grove or a circle of stones, with no other actual structure erected.
In a word, yes. I have a lot of background information that isn't exactly necessary for players to create characters and join the game, but which provides a lot of added detail and flavor to the world. As I get around to typing it up, I will add it to my little miniweb here.
Narth is the work of nearly 30 years of continuous development as of 2008; it would be impossible to put everything here, at least at first. If you have a question about some aspect of Narth, you can email it to me via the link in the menu above. I'll answer you in email, but if the question is of general interest and the answer gives a better picture of the campaign, I'll add it to this web page (and give you credit for asking it!).