Baklunish Empire, Dungeons & Dragons, Gods of Greyhawk, Greyhawk

Let’s Talk about Al’Akbar of the World of Greyhawk

Unless you’re really into the world of Greyhawk it’s unlikely that you’ve encountered the demi-god Al’Akbar and the True Faith that surrounds his worship. So let’s talk a little bit about that.

The Palace Guard by Ludwig Deutsch

The first mention of Al’Akbar came in the Strategic Review Volume 2, No. 2 from April 1976 in the article Mighty Magic Miscellany by Neal Healey. Here the cup and talisman that would bear his name going forward were first described – though he was referred to as “Akbar.” The talisman had the name Allah in Kufic script[2] on it and was a clear connection to the real world faith of Islam.

When the artifact would next appeared in the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Master’s Guide three years later, in 1979, “Akbar” was now known as “Al’Akbar;” a change that would remain going forward. The name “Allah” was removed along with the mention of “Kufic” script; however, the Islamic connection was not removed from the item. The text states:

. . . This pair of holy relics were given by the gods of the Paynims to their most exalted high priest of lawful good alignment in the days following the Invoked Devastation. It was lost to the demi-human raiders and was last rumored to be somewhere in the Southeastern portion of the Bandit Kingdoms . . .”[2]

Gygax, 157

The word “Paynim” which Gary Gygax used to for these people has a very specific, though archaic, meaning: a pagan – especially a Muslim.[3] The Paynims within the game world further this connection by using a political structure and title hierarchy which is closely identified with the Islamic political and religious hierarchy.[4] Their Baklunish neighbors in Ket, the Caliphate of Ekbir, the Sultanate of Zeif, and and Ull all use similar structures and terminology as well.

The World of Greyhawk is not unfamiliar with connections to real world religions. Saint Cuthbert, for example, is named after a real world Catholic Saint of the same name and the standard terminology and power structure of traditional Dungeons & Dragons games uses a Western European / Catholic perspective. To have a similar alternative presented with the Baklunish West and the faith of Al’Akbar is refreshing.

The faith of Al’Akbar can best be summed up by this quote from the Living Greyhawk Gazetteer:

Be as a vessel of kindness and emblem of devotion, for the righteous man is both steadfast and merciful. Be not as the untutored infidel, but rather heed your superiors, and submit to their wisdom and guidance. Let the faithful strive always to nurture the seed of Good in the soil of Law, that by doing so they are received into the garden of Al’Akbar.”

Holian, 165

I suspect that it will be hard for many players to follow the word of their superiors unless they elect to choose another player in the group as their leader. Even then they’ll have to deal with characters in game who are of a higher rank in their faith or community.

The Qanun Player by Ludwig Deutsch

Unlike many of the faiths in the game, Al’Akbar’s faith has a schism. On one side you have “The Exalted Faith” and on the other you have “The True Faith,” which provides the players with additional role-play opportunities. Functionally these two faiths are largely the same with some minor differences.

The Exalted Faith

  • recognizes the supremacy of the holy caliph in Ekbir.
  • masters of rhetoric and diplomacy
  • high regard for academic achievement.
  • clerics called “qadi.”[5]
  • tend towards Lawful Good or Neutral Good alignments

The True Faith

  • recognizes the supremacy of the grand mufti of the Yatils
  • emphasize hard work, plain speech, and obedience.
  • tend towards Lawful Neutral
  • clerics called “mullahs.” [6]

I hope that this look at Al’Akbar, and at the beautiful artwork of Ludwig Deutsch, has helped inspire some of you to dig deeper into the character and the culture that helped inspire him.

The Emir by Ludwig Deutsch

Notes

[1] From the Encyclopedia Britannica: “. . . Kūfic script, in calligraphy, earliest extant Islamic style of handwritten alphabet that was used by early Muslims to record the Qurʾān. This angular, slow-moving, dignified script was also used on tombstones and coins as well as for inscriptions on buildings. Some experts distinguish Kūfi proper from Meccan and Medinese scripts, which were also used to copy the Qurʾān . . .” Britannica

[2] It’s important to note here that Gygax intentionally positions the artifact within the world of Greyhawk. He uses the Paynims, who exist within the game world, the Invoked Devastation that destroyed the Baklunish and Sueloise peoples, and the Bandit Kingdoms.

[3] see Merriam-Webster.com for more

[4] The Paynims have shahs, mullahs, sheiks, ilkhans, padishahs, and other titles which are all closely tied with the Islamic political and religious structures.

[5] From the Encyclopedia Britannica “. . . qadi, Arabic qāḍī, a Muslim judge who renders decisions according to the Sharīʿah (Islamic law). The qadi’s jurisdiction theoretically includes civil as well as criminal matters . . .”

[6] See the Encyclopedia Britannica for more on this topic.

Works Cited

Gygax, Gary. Advanced Dungeons & Dragon’s Dungeon Master’s Guide. TSR, Inc. USA, 1979. pg 157.

Holian, Gary, et al. Living Greyhawk Gazetteer. Wizards of the Coast, 2000. pg. 165.

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10 thoughts on “Let’s Talk about Al’Akbar of the World of Greyhawk”

  1. Very interesting. The fantasy schism would seem to parallel the real world Islamic schism that happened ‘round the 12th century (I am probably misremembering the date).

    I did a lot of research into the history of 10th century Islam, and the nations/cultures of the Arabian peninsula of the time, when I was creating Five Ancient Kingdoms. I did not look at the Al-Qadim source material (or any of this Al-Albar lore), so I find this examination fascinating.
    )

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  2. “I suspect that it will be hard for many players to follow the word of their superiors unless they elect to choose another player in the group as their leader.”

    Alternatively, the player could turn to community/religious leaders to follow. So, rather than being a foot-loose adventurer going where they (or the group) pleases, they instead seek out a mullah/qadi for direction (e.g. a quest).

    There’s treasure in those gobbin infested hills? Seek out the local mullah for guidance and blessings before heading off for adventure. Oh, they say they want an escort in the other direction? Well, that’s what they’re dong now, gobbins can wait.

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      1. During RPGA’s “Living Greyhawk” campaign (2000-2008), Eastern Canada (except Quebec) was assigned the land of Ket as their home region, and many of the themes outlined in your article about the faith of Al’Akbar and the political structure of grafs, beys and the Beygraf were explored in detail. There was also a lot of regional detail such as a love of horses, and drinking of kumis (fermented mare’s milk).

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  3. The problem that I have is that this God was featured heavily on certain living Greyhawk regions, so I don’t know that they would be as unknown as the article lists.
    That said had great read. Thanks a lot.

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    1. It’s been 14 years since the Living Greyhawk campaign ended. During that time Greyhawk has increasingly been shunted off to the wayside with less official adventures, articles, and attention. Al’Akbar hasn’t been a major component of any storylines for the game since the Living Campaign – and even then it was a regional attention, not a campaign wide phenomenon.

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