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Ruined Kingdoms (1994)

Ruined Kingdoms (1994) is odd. It’s a pretty substantial expansion of the world of Al-Qadim — the cities (ruined and otherwise) and jungles of eastern Zakhara — and an adventure frame to encourage its exploration. There is a sort of cultural mixing here I don’t quite know how to parse. The overriding aesthetic is still Arabian, but with some strains of ancient Egyptian, South Asian and Southeast Asian as well. This feels very much like the flattening of Eastern cultures as described by Edward Said in Orientalism.

The adventure frame isn’t that great either, to be honest. Very events-y, but not in an interesting way. I do like some of the depictions of the ruined cities and welcome the fact that there are crocodile people to be encountered here, but Ruined Kingdoms is one of my least favorite in the line (which is saying something, since the wheels sort of come off Al-Qadim generally at this point). Some of the material here was recycled by Kurtz for the Book of Necromancers, a book I find equally puzzling, but, compared to this box it is the superior treatment.

Karl Waller’s interiors are still pretty great — that geomancer with the pharaonic headdress is awesome. And I enjoy the atmosphere of Fred Fields’ rather un-Fieldsish cover.

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