Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Spain is a Big Country

[as with my earlier post, this was originally written in the middle of the night at 10,000 feet]

To most people, this post might seem like a Big Duh Statement…OF COURSE, Spain is a big country. It’s a damn country, after all, not a city or even Rhode Island (sorry, Brian). And countries are big.

But I have to admit, living in the U.S. and having traveled back-and-forth across the U.S. (by plane, train, and automobile)…when I look at a globe, I see the Iberian Peninsula and think, “huh, Spain’s not all that big.”

It is. It is huge.

This trip I was as far north as Bilbao and Ordunia up in Basque country, and as far south as Granada. I had the opportunity to drive from Madrid (in the geographical center of the country) to towns just a few (four) hours south and there is a LOT of country out there. Andalusia is huge, by itself, and if it weren’t for the great highways and the high speed travel allowed by today’s technology, it would seem a fairly arduous undertaking (in my mind) to travel it…by foot or by horse. It’s pretty dry out there.

But Spain isn’t a desert by any stretch of the imagination. The north is as green (or nearly so) as the Pacific Northwest, and plenty rainy (probably moreso actually). And there are plenty of mountain ranges (where do you think Toledo gets the iron for that Spanish steel?), not even counting the Pyrenees to the east.

Oh, yeah…and miles and miles of coastline, north, south, and west. Ever hear of the Spanish Armada? Once upon a time Spain had THE biggest, baddest maritime naval force the world had ever seen.

But, yeah, back to the point: Spain, big. And not just geographically. The place is big both historically and culturally. Franco and his Nationalists (i.e. Fascists) did a number on the country for most of the 20th century in the name of a “united Spain” but didn’t quite manage to extinguish the Basque and Catalan language/cultures (not to mention the Arabic action still around in the South). And historically? We have peoples from many different lands and ethnic backgrounds fighting to possess this land: the indigenous folks, the Gallic, the Romans, the Visigoths, the Moors, the Catholics…heck, Spain sent Crusaders to the Holy Land, and then used those experiences (and loot) to help finance the Reconquista of re-claiming the country from Islam centuries later.

And that’s all before they make their mark as a world superpower spreading Empire around the globe.

Spain is huge. In all its climates, it is marked by castles, fortresses, and palaces. And ruins of course…can’t have wars and culture clashes without breaking a few stones.

If one wanted to use any real world setting for a D&D campaign, Spain...just by itself...wouldn’t be a bad place to use as a basis.

Assuming you forget everything East of the mountains (just raise the Pyrenees up to Himalayan heights) you have a huge country ripe for exploration, political intrigue, and, Africa and Araby to the south, England and the Celts across the sea to the North, all climates and weather types (I have a great postcard of snow-covered Toledo), and ancient Gallic dungeons to explore (not to mention deep dark caves ripe for spelunking).

Add a little Vancian magic for kicks (and to taste) and you have a fantastic setting right here, right now.

Personally, I’d take the Tolkien road of having the elves be from “over the sea” (i.e. from the fey lands of Ireland or some such) and thus more likely found in the forests to the north, and the dwarves' home of the eastern mountains (they’re not big on water after all). Halflings might be anywhere, but the hills of Andalusia wouldn’t be a bad idea (they dig on their olive trees).

Wind mills and castles…though also REAL giants for Don Quixote to fight. The rich history of the country provides plenty of fertile ground for any campaign you care to imagine. Pick any 200-300 year period and then pick a culture for your heroic PCs. Are they Moorish adventures? Christian Templars? Mercenaries out of Catalan? Basques trying to hold onto their own way of life?

Regardless of who you choose to be “the good guys” and “the bad guys” there is plenty of wilderness to ride across, plenty of ruins to explore, plenty of trouble to get into…all of which makes for a superb D&D campaign. I love it. I have so many ideas BURSTING in my head for a game…far more than I ever got from my tours of France or Italy or even Germany (and Germany loves its castles and knights and armor and such).

Spain…a couple thousands years of adventure…ripe for the taking. It's definitely worth a gander.
; )


  1. Eh, not much bigger than California, and dwarfed by Texas...

    Just yanking your chain - good post. Anyone who digs into the adventures of El Cid will realize medieval Spain has some crazy adventure potential going on.

  2. Agreed, Spain in El Cid's time (last part of the 11th century) would be a great setting. The whole peninsula is roughly divided in half. Three squabbling, somewhat backwards Christian mini-kingdoms in the north and a host of little taifa emirites in the South surviving the collapse of the highly-civilized Caliphate in Cordoba (with a large 50-100 mile no man's zone between). Cries out for a campaign really.

  3. I've heard of this... "armada", but I can't deal with it now, as I'm too busy playing bowls. ;)

  4. @ J.E.: California & Texas don't have QUITE the D&D-conducive history of Spain...but they've got plenty of space!

    @ Ck: That's what I'M talking about!

    @ Kelvin: Are they of the "blood" variety?
    ; )

  5. From Wikipedia:
    "The most famous (but probably apocryphal) anecdote about Drake relates that, prior to the battle, he was playing a game of bowls on Plymouth Hoe. On being warned of the approach of the Spanish fleet, Drake is said to have remarked that there was plenty of time to finish the game and still beat the Spaniards."

    It doesn't specify what team he was using, but I'd guess he was a Wood Elf player. ;)

  6. I once developed an extensive family tree of Spanish adventurers. It included elves, humans and half-elves, and encompassed a group of mythic adventurers from a period earlier in history. Three of the group still lived, all elves, and the 'current time' of the piece included many adventurers who were children or nephews of them. A couple were famous weaponsmiths from Toledo, and there was a luthier as well.