1001 Nights vs King Arthur’s knights

I have heard, O auspicious king, that when Ghanim brought the chest to his house, he opened it and brought the girl out. On looking around, she saw that she was in a handsome house, spread with carpets and adorned in attractive hangings and so forth. On seeing bundles and bales of materials and other such things, she realized that here was a merchant of substance, a man of great wealth. She uncovered her face, looked at him and, discovering him to be a handsome young man, she fell in love with him at first sight.
-1001 Nights

Coming from a childhood spent reading about King Arthur, I find the world of 1001 Nights notable for its dearth of knights and lords. In Europe, the male heroes are the nobles – the hereditary warrior class. In 1001 Nights, successful warriors are almost absent. The storybook heroes are merchants.

In 1001 Nights, access to the upper class is gained through business. People with swords are usually among the lowest classes: city guards, bandits, and armed slaves. In that way, it’s closer culturally to us than is Arthurian legend. In the modern USA, rich businessmen are the closest thing we have to a ruling class, and people who live by physical violence – criminals, soldiers, cops – aren’t in positions of power.

Interestingly, while our modern culture is built on a 1001 Nights model, our entertainment is built on a Knights of the Round Table model. Adventure movie heroes are frequently violent strongmen, while non-physical businessmen are more likely to be villains than heroes.

Old D&D editions, with their emphasis on treasure hunting, enable both modes. Like 1001 Nights heroes, and the players, the PCs are after money. They live in a world where once you collect enough gold, you level up and become a Lord. There may be hereditary lords and nobles as window dressing, but the real powers in the world are the nouveau riche, and wealth is primarily in the form of coins (as in 1001 Nights) not land (as in Camelot).

On the other hand, D&D money is collected through force of arms. In OD&D, the XP value of a treasure haul is related to the strength of its defender. If you’re 8th level, and you defeat a lowly 5th-level creature to win a treasure hoard, you get 5/8 of the XP value of the treasure. So in D&D, you’re a violent thug AND you’re greedy. Best of both worlds.

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