The economist Timur Kuran has written a lot about Islamic financial institutions. Long story short, he doesn’t like them. Nonetheless, they’re really interesting in ways that are potentially good for gaming.

One in particular that could be useful for gaming purposes is the waqf. In secular American law, a waqf is like an NGO with incredibly strong donor intent. Kuran describes waqfs that were probably a good idea when created, but are still chugging along centuries later, long after changing circumstances have rendered their mission obsolete. For instance, a hostel for travelers along a trade route that no longer sees much traffic.

Kuran ‘s argument is that waqfs led to a misallocation of capital, but it strikes me that this could be a world-building element for why there is a town in the middle of nowhere. An entrepreneur wouldn’t throw good money after bad by staying in a godsforsaken hellhole but a waqf has more resources than options on how to spend them. It could be that its location used to be bustling but the hereditary board of directors are legally unable to relocate in the face of changing climatic conditions, ogre raids, etc. And here is where it gets game-able. The waqf could be not just an improbably located safe haven, but a mission giver.

Suppose great great grand pappy established a waqf with his descendants as the salaried board of directors bound by geas to operate what at the time was a crucially necessary buggy whip repair shop in an oasis. Fast forward a century and the oasis has nearly dried up, nobody uses that trade route any more because wyverns eat the camels, and WotC sensitivity readers have excised any reference to whips, buggy or otherwise. So a new forward-looking generation of the board decides to stretch the limits of their geas to send word to the thieves guild of Colorful Metropolis that there’s good money in it for any murder hobos willing to travel to the desert and work for the waqf doing gigs to destroy the wyvern nests, travel into the underdark to see what’s gone wrong with the oasis aquifer, and make sure that monsters seek better opportunities on the competing trade routes.

That is, the waqf could be a mission giver who is attempting to restore a lost locale and willing to devote resources to doing so. In this respect it’s something like the premise of Arden Vul, where a restored empire delegates to murder hobos the hard work of restoring some recovered ruins. The difference being that the patron is much humbler than the Archontean Empire and indeed the waqf may even be on the outs with the political authority.

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  1. John

    I really like this. It certainly provides a plausible narrative justification for facets of the world that are needed for gameplay reasons, but it seems like it could be even more central. A world full of ruins is key to many classic DnD assumptions, but generally they are physical rather than institutional.

    Tombs taken over by undead and beastmen are great, but having the structures actually pristinely maintained by their original creators would be cool. A low magic “present day” of the PCs could live atop not the literal ruins of past races, but rather the “left behind” of an elven rapture.

    Maybe all the elves went West a millennium ago, except those charged to watch the graves, guardrooms and waystations of their departed civilization forever. This would allow them to be strange and foreign in a way an elf at the local tavern isn’t.


  2. Travis Miller

    This is good. Very good.


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