Divine Right History (Part 2 of 3)

The beginning of Divine Right takes place over 40 years ago, and its continued popularity is a testament to the game’s solid design, deep mythos, and great characters. Glenn shared his design notes and the fascinating history of Divine Right with us, so prepare to enter the turbulent world of Minaria from the very start. (Part 1 here.)

DR1: The Classic Editions

We sent the finished prototype to TSR, Inc. of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. Within a reasonably short time, TSR’s new products chief informed us that his staff liked Your Excellency, and he was authorized to make us an offer of publication. Once the development staff began to work on Your Excellency in earnest, Kenneth and I received word that the title would be changed to Divine Right. We were fond of “Your Excellency” but soon grew fonder still of “Divine Right.” Further, we had originally called all the monarchs “kings” and now were asked to come up with a wider variety of titles (aided by a kindly developer who had enclosed a long list of suggestions). We also were asked to provide some background material for the world, such as short descriptions of the kingdoms and the scenic hexes. As the seasoned fictioneer on the team, it fell to me to define Minaria.

Although the game world was created without a real background story, the outline of Minarian society came easily enough. As a fan of the theories of Immanuel Velikovsky and of the parallel concept of Robert E. Howard’s Hyboria, I divided Minarian history into periods before and after the “great Cataclysm.” Before the Cataclysm, the Minarian continent had enjoyed a kind of Pax Romanum, ruled by a proud, overbearing, but basically benign species of high elf, which I called the Lloroi. The Cataclysm that followed took much of Minaria back to the Stone Age, but enough culture survived to allow a fairly rapid restoration of civilization. By about 500 A.C. (After the Cataclysm), Minaria had achieved about the same level of culture as Europe possessed in 500 A.D. (Though Europe fell to a nadir at that time, Minaria had fallen much lower but managed to climb back a bit.)

Developing the demihuman races, which fantasy fans know so well from Tolkien, called for a special measure of care. Rather than treat the Goblins and Trolls as evil creatures befitting their origins in the mythology of the Underworld, I addressed them as alien races—different from men, of course, and rivals, but not ideologically evil. The Elves and Dwarves came in for a little satire to set them apart from the stereotypes already abroad in the gaming culture. Hillbillies and gold miners inspired my concept of Minarian Dwarves, and a combination of Imperial China and the Third Reich were models for the Elves.

The background material seemed to fit the bill as far as TSR was concerned, and it was published with the game in 1979 as an appendix to the rulebook. I had every reason to believe that this was all that I would ever be allowed to tell about Minaria.

Minarian Legends

To my delight, shortly after the release of the game, I received a request from the editor of The Dragon magazine in which he proposed a series of essays to supplement Divine Right. His idea was to publish a full-length article for each kingdom and each character of Minaria. I estimated that it was a job that would run the length of a fair-sized novel. As a struggling fictioneer with too little demand for my work, I accepted the task gladly. Over the course of about two years, I wrote approximately ten pages per month. These became a regular feature called “Minarian Legends” in The Dragon.

The editor at The Dragon soon left his job, but his successor was equally supportive of Minarian Legends. The series continued to its logical conclusion, comprising twenty installments. My detailed history of the Minarian continent consisted of some 60,000 words, from the Cataclysm to about the year 1350 A.C.

Lately, these old pages became the basis of a full-length novel, The Ship of Huisinga, the first book of a projected trilogy that I sometimes call The Matter of Mivior, which will be published by Castalia House in 2021.

In any case, writing the first novel and planning others has enriched this writer’s awareness of things Minarian. These include the development of the cult of Huisinga under the heroine Sankari—the most unlikely of missionaries—as well as the origin of the Tail People, the strange legacy of the heroine Trouble, and many another detail that has done much to flesh out Minaria as a real-life place.

Scarlet Empire

From its release in 1979, Divine Right proved to be as popular with the public as its designers could have hoped. If memory serves, the first run was about 20,000 copies. About a year after the first release, TSR put out a revised edition of 10,000 copies more. Not too long after the release of the game, Ken and I had sent in some errata and suggestions for changes. Some of these were included in the second edition. In a particular issue of The Dragon (Vol. IV, No. 8, #34 Dec. 1979), TSR executive Mike Carr presented the creators’ errata in a column parallel to one giving TSR’s new official revisions to the rules. This article allowed players to update their first-edition copies without having to buy a new copy.

Encouraged by a strong fan response, Kenneth and I worked up a sequel called The Revolt of the Scarlet Empire. It consisted of a map that fit contiguously to the Minaria we already knew, one that displayed the kingdoms and empires of a southern subcontinent, which I called Girion. To make it strikingly different from Divine Right, we developed the Scarlet Witch King, an entity previously mentioned in the original rules and again in the subsequent Minarian Legends.

We wanted to avoid the criticism that the new game was just a second Divine Right on a new map. We offered more—much more. The basic game of Scarlet Empire plays much like a good, clean game of DR, but because fans had liked DR’s naval action, we incorporated more sea and more sea power into the new map and counter mix. Optional rules present several scenarios in which the Scarlet Witch King, the bane of the ancient Lloroi Empire, had returned to subjugate the free kingdoms of Girion under a “scarlet empire.” Many new special mercenaries came aboard, and so did many more magic items. We created the optional rules for curses, and the Scarlet Witch King was provided with enough heavy-duty sorcery to make the Eaters of Wisdom look like paupers, magic-wise.

Scarlet Empire offers a Revolt scenario wherein the subjugated kingdoms rise against an imperial tyranny; a Conquest scenario, simulating the Scarlet Witch King’s original blitzkrieg that had swept the subcontinent; and even a Crusader scenario that links the two games, featuring the armies of the north coming south to help free the Scarlet Witch King’s oppressed vassals. The Scarlet Witch King repaid the compliment with an Invasion scenario, in which a secure Scarlet Empire boldly invades Minaria from the south edge of the DR map. There is also the option of a two-map supergame.

TSR’s new-products department expressed interest in the proposed sequel, and the prototype was sent to them in the summer of 1980. Alas, despite our best hopes and expectations, even while SE was undergoing playtest, the decision came down from TSR to take the original Divine Right off the company’s back list. That event precluded any further consideration of SE. Well, whoever said that TSR never made any mistakes?

Part 3 coming tomorrow…

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