Princes of the Barbary Coast: my first attempt at an ACKS setting

Hey everybody! A friend turned me on to ACKS a little while ago, and although I haven’t yet had a chance to play, I have become rather engrossed in putting together a setting for when I do. Since I’ve seen one or two other people doing it, I figured I’d share what I’ve been working on and see what you guys think. The setting is still taking shape in my mind, so I’d love to hear new ideas from the folks around here. :slight_smile:

The Lastlands (apologies to Joe Dever for lifting the name) are an isolated pocket of civilization on the shores of the western ocean, surrounded on three sides by vast reaches of inhospitable wilderness. These troubled lands have seen the rise and fall of numerous local empires, but have had no true king in nearly a hundred years. Instead, petty warlords squabble over the carcass of a fallen kingdom while the forces of Chaos grow bold and advance a little further into the borderlands each year.

Along the western edge of the Lastlands lies the region known as the Barbary Coast, a stretch of rugged coastline consisting primarily of wooded hills and mountains infested by bandits, barbarians, beastmen, and monsters. The land is dotted with the ruins of settlements and strongholds built in a more civilized age, as well as the strange remnants of still older and more mysterious cultures. It is a country that most good men avoid, but where one with enough courage, luck, and skill might win a fortune or carve out a domain of his own.

Player Characters, of course, are just that sort of person, or at least believe themselves to be. The Barbary Coast is meant to be an adventure sandbox and a foundation upon which would-be conquerors can begin to build their domains. The balkanized nature of the Lastlands means that, as such characters grow in power, they might expand their holdings through conquest or diplomacy in addition to settling unclaimed territory. Indeed, even particularly “heroic” characters might be motivated to unite the region, in order to protect the good people of the Lastlands from any number of potential enemies.

Below is a link to a map of the Barbary Coast region, taken from a larger hexographer map that I’ve been tinkering with for a while. Those of you who are familiar with the geography of the California Central Coast may recognize the general shape of the region; in fact, I organized the whole setting around the geography of California and the surrounding parts of North America. The Barbary Coast isn’t post-apocalyptic, nor is it a proper alt-historical setting, though I have found a lot of inspiration in the history and culture of my home state, both before and after European colonization. I’m hoping that, by integrating elements of a part of the real world that I’m fairly intimately familiar with, I’ll be able to create a deeper and more interesting setting.

To the north, the wilderness of the Barbary Coast gives way to the southern marches of the Principality of Benicia, the largest and arguably most powerful state in the region. Centered on a port city that once acted as the primary center for trade between the fertile lands of the Great Valley and the coastal cities of the south, Benicia is one of several successor states to the collapsed Kingdom of Nisena. Benicia is built using the default assumptions for the ACKS core rules, and is where I’m planning on having the PCs start out.

To the east lies the Great Valley, where ancient cities cluster around the riparian floodplains and the marshy Sea of Reeds. These cities have been united at various times in the past into leagues or kingdoms, most recently the northern kingdom of Nisena. At present the southern part of the valley is divided into eight independent city-states, while the northern part is the battleground of various pretty lords fighting over the remains of the Nisenan heartland.

To the southeast lies Tobikhar, a land roughly analogous to ancient Greece or Phoenicia whose people are known for being shrewd traders and expert mariners. The last hundred years have not been kind to the Tobikarans, who once founded colonies all along the Barbary coast and beyond as part of a massive trading network. Most of these outposts have since been lost to barbarians and monsters, or else become havens for pirates and slavers. Most shockingly, the westernmost of the Tobikaran cities was conquered by an orcish horde of unprecedented size not more than one year ago. Now known at Orcutt, the fallen city has become a magnet for beastmen and humans of the worst sort, and the other rulers in the region redouble their garrisons as they cast an uneasy gaze upon the new Chaotic domain.

Beyond the Lastlands lie countless miles of trackless wilderness consisting mostly of steep mountains and barren wastes where tribes of beastmen and human nomads clash endlessly to secure the basic necessities of life. The nearest “civilized” lands are the Old Empires far to the southeast along the coast, where decadent monarchs rule over palace-cities of cruel beauty and sinister death-cults lurk in every shadow (or so the tales say). Few people in the Lastlands have ever met a southerner, though traders from the Empires do visit the ports of Tobikhar from time to time, for their masters have an endless hunger for the precious metals and stones mined in the north.

Beyond the high deserts of the east lie the endless plains that are the domains of the Horselords, pastoral nomads whose vast caravans rival the cities of the Lastlands in size and wealth. It is said that further still there can be found huge reaches of fertile land that feed kingdoms of unimaginable power and prosperity, but if such tales are true then no traveler in recent memory has visited these fantastic countries and returned to tell the tale.

Of the distant north less still is known, for the rugged mountains beyond the Great Valley are cloaked in dark and primordial forests that keep their secrets well. It is said that there are places far across the endless woods where winter never ends and the ocean itself is frozen solid, but few give credence to such wild stories.

I like it! Thanks for sharing the campaign premise. It seems like a perfect sandbox.

I’m glad you found it interesting! I sort of didn’t realize what a terrifying wall of text I’d created until I was already done with it. :stuck_out_tongue:

I’ve got a ton more notes, of course, on the history, culture, and ecology of the region, but I wasn’t sure if anybody would be interested. I’ve had altogether too much free time lately, and tinkering with this setting has given me an excuse to do a lot of really interesting research and brainstorming.

In particular, I’ve been having a lot of fun coming up with ways to blend setting elements distinctive to California and the Americas in general into the usual mix of tropes that people expect from a fantasy game. I’m trying to strike a balance, drawing inspiration from a unique and under-explored geographic and cultural region while still having a setting that my friends can jump into without having to fall back on an encyclopedia to understand what’s going on.

For instance, I’ve been giving a fair amount of thought to the makeup of the armies in the region; I’d like them to be distinctive and ideally somewhat evocative of the real-world cultures of the American west, which is tricky since most of them have virtually nothing in common with the feudal(ish), stronghold-building societies assumed by ACKS and fantasy gaming in general.

To that end, I’ve been looking further abroad at the kinds of troops and tactics employed by the urbanized cultures of Mesoamerica and the American southwest, as well as Old World cultures that emerged in regions with analogous geographies and climates. The way I see it, the former gives me a foundation of ideas and imagery to build on, while the latter suggests how foreign elements like horses and metal equipment might be added to that foundation.

The topography and climate of the Great Basin east of the Sierras is similar, in broad strokes at lest, with that of Iran and Central Asia, which suggests to me that imaginary cultures in that region might gravitate toward fielding a lot of cavalry, particularly horse archers given the high esteem in which many Californian cultures held skilled bowmen. A mix of cataphractoi and horse archers might serve as well in the mountains and valleys of Califonia as they did under the Parthians, while other realms might adopt tactics similar to their Roman rivals.

Same Joe Dever who wrote the Lone Wolf books?

Indeed! Before I went to college I was rarely able to put together any tabletop games for more than a session or two, but I got really into the Lone Wolf and Grey Star game books. I think they’ve had a big impact on my taste in fantasy, since they had (for the most part) a very distinct dirty, low fantasy sort of aesthetic to them.

In Magnamund (the setting for the Lone Wolf books) the Lastlands are, if I recall correctly, the eponymous protagonist’s homeland of Somerlund and the neighboring kingdom of Durenor, which are more-or-less surrounded by lawless, barbaric, or downright evil countries on all sides. I grabbed the name because I liked the sound of it, but I wanted to credit my sources. :slight_smile:

Very impressive, quite a bit of thought and effort going into this, but it looks like it will be a great place for an ACKS campaign when it is finished.

Thanks! It’s actually been a lot of fun doing the research for this; it’s always exciting to me to learn more about the places I’ve been and lived, and detailing a region for ACKS has given me an excuse to read about everything from the geology to the linguistics of California.

In the time since I started this thread I’ve kind of gone back to the drawing board once or twice, in part because I discovered that the scale of my map was pretty far off.

I suppose that shouldn’t really matter (I’m just designing a fantasy setting, after all, not trying to perfectly recreate a real place), but I figure that if I’m going to make use of real-world geography, I might as well get it right.

In its current incarnation, the Barbary Coast is a great deal wilder, with the main realm in the region being centered around the city of Kamia on the natural harbor corresponding to our world’s San Diego Bay. From there it’s a long haul by sea to the fractured successor-states of the Old Empire in the south or the Elven kingdoms in the rich temperate rainforests of the northeast. A silk road-like overland trade route stretches across the eastern mountains and deserts as well, with Kamia’s closest trading partner being the city of Yuum on the Khwata (Colorado) River.

I’ve worked up a rough timeline for the larger macro-setting that incorporates the prehistoric “megadroughts” that affected the Western North America between the 10th and 16th centuries. The dramatic climate history of the region is more than a little unsettling from the perspective of somebody who lives here, but it’s a perfect explanation for an underpopulated landscape scattered with mysterious abandoned ruins. After all, that’s pretty much exactly what European explorers encountered in Arizona and New Mexico.