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Yora
2011-07-02, 01:51 PM
I like prehistoric fantasy. I really had enough with knights, and princesses, pointy hat wizards, elves in their crystal spires, and scottish dwarves with full plate armor, axes, and beer mugs. But (compared to more traditional fantasy) there's not that much of prehistoric fantasy to build on for your own game. But Conan, the Trojan War, Ramayana, and others all have really interesting settings with their own disting heroes and aspects.

So with this thread, I attempt to gather hopefully lots of tips and small tricks on how to get that prehistoric feel in your game. As a rule of thumb, if we have good first hand reccords of the life in a nation or civilization and its history, it's not prehistoric. As an even more general rule, I'd say about 500 BC is the cut-off point.
It's also important to remember that such adventures and campaigns don't have to be historically accurate, but have to appear as that to most players.

Limited Armor: Many RPGs, especially D&D, loeve the really heavy plate armor. However, this is a rather recent invention. In earlier times, armor was much more simple (and more affordable). Armors made from leather and hide are freely available even in such early societies. Scale armor is also an ancient invitation and fits very well in. Bronze brestplates appeared in the 5th century BC, and is often anachronistically shown as worn by the trojan heroes. Chain mail appeared only later, and even though it is a really old form of armor, it might get heavily associated with the Normans and the Crusaders. It's an option with good arguments for both using and not using them. Also describe shields as greek-style round, instead of the classic knights shield.

Limited Weapons: While many weapons have really ancient origins and havn't really changed during the ages, there are some exceptions. Though about as old as chain mail, crossbows have a rather high tech feel to them, especially when compared to bows. I'd leave them out completely, but instead put much larger numbers of slings in the hands of NPC soldiers. There used to be elite mercenary units that basically relied only on their slings in ancient times, so they are right at home in a prehistoric adventure. Swords generally were shorter, especially when made out of bronze before iron became more common. Limit yourself to one handed-swords and daggers. An important thing is to know, that in times this early, there were basically no siege weapons, which made fortified walls more or less impenetrable.
I suggest making heavy use of short swords, spears, and bows, but also include some more exotic ones like large two-handed clubs and unusually shaped swords like falcatas (http://swordforum.com/swd/dt/dt-falcata-largesand.jpg) and kopeshs (http://www.templeresearch.eclipse.co.uk/bronze/images/khopesh.jpg). Though they may look a bit weird at first, they were actual bronze and iron age swords, and really effective ones.

Bronze: Duh! If you have a game set in the bronze age, use a lot of that stuff. When the players encounter something made of metal, just say it's made of bronze instead, just to remind the players that this is a bronze age style setting. Even if you have iron and steel, tools and pots can still be made from bronze to a large extend, just to have it as little reminders.

Jade and Obsidian: Jade and Obsidian are two materials that see only very limited use in fantasy, which helps making the campaign feel different. Obsidian is a black glass, that can be worked like flint and gets very very sharp. However, since it easily snaps, it only works well for small blades like knives, arrowheads, and speartips. Jade is a green mineral that can be carved into very detailed and small shapes, but is actually completely unsuitable for armor. It makes for a good material for ornaments though, and was used for that in Asia a lot. Just mention jade figurines and altar decorations and such from time to time, to remind the players that this isn't all the same old gold and silver stuff.

City States: In prehistoric times, there were no real nations that are the universal concept for political entities in later ages. Instead society is largely tribal, with a small number of, in comparison, extremely powerful and wealthy cities. When the plot has the PCs arrive at a city, make it into something big. Most PCs will likely never have seen anything like it, with all the strange sights and people.

Spiryt
2011-07-02, 02:26 PM
I'm not sure why you say that "breastplate appeared in 5 century BC", it was in use by Hellenic and "influenced" people at least 2 centuries earlier than that, generally.

Dendra armor can abe also called "breastplate" of some sort, I guess, for example. :smallwink:

http://i23.photobucket.com/albums/b379/Brennos/etruscan1.jpg

As far as siege equipment goes, Assyrians were famous for their wide use even before 1rst millenium BC.

Connington
2011-07-02, 03:35 PM
Divine Ancestry: Let's be honest. You couldn't throw a stone in ancient myths without hitting some demi-god or the other. In a high-powered game, "bastard child of some god or the other" is probably going to be a pretty common background. Your divine parent might show you favor from time to time, or his jealous consort might make your life a living hell.

Fate and Tragedy: The ancients tended to be gloomy folks, especially the Greeks. Tragic destinies are standard. The gods tend to dump all of their petty problems on mankind, and there's very little you can do about it. Trying to fight fate will just makes things worse.

Emerging Empires: City States may have been the big new thing in the Bronze Age, but the Iron Age was a time of mighty kingdoms and empires like Assyria and Persia. An eclectic campaign can combine them, with old-fashioned city-stats struggling against new empires with massive, ruthless armies fighting a kind of total war unknown to city-states.

Special Items: Don't be afraid to hand out magic items in campaigns with active magic, but try to make the players understand that they're special. Magic weapons should probably have names and back-stories, and other than that PCs should have a few wonderful magic items rather than lots of minor ones.

Chariots: Synonymous with rich nobility. Most chariots will have two horses and two men. One driver, a sidekick who tends to get killed off towards the end of the story, and a fighter with a spear or bow. Impressive setups may involve larger chariots with more men and horses, or have scythes attached to the wheels. Simply riding those horses is probably left to semi-civilized nomads.

bebosteveo
2011-07-02, 04:28 PM
Don't forget limited communication. News from the town over might only come weekly with the merchant caravans, and hearing about anything further away might take a month or more as it works its way through the grapevine.

This also leads right into the limited knowledge of the world beyond the horizon. Again, playing off of mythology a bit, even if there is nothing fictional about them you should have rumors of the 20ft Giants of the East or Savage Animal-men who can become one with the trees. Combine a bit of imagination with one person's fanciful account of a man with 1 eye and suddenly everyone thinks that Sicily is home to cyclops (cyclopes? cyclopi?) and other mythical creatures.

Finally: Keep large areas of the map unknown by 99.9% of people. Not just "this is the magical forest of darkness" but "there is the magical forest and I have no idea what is beyond it, if anything" level of knowledge. I think the Greeks declared that the world ended at the strait of Gibraltar and that the area beyond was nothing but sea monsters, the underworld, and Atlantis.

EccentricCircle
2011-07-02, 05:00 PM
Horses
Its been speculated that at least in the early bronze age people didn't ride horses, as the earliest domesticated breeds were too small for a man to ride. it wasn't until later that stronger breeds of horse that could carry a warrior were bred and cavalry as we understand it became more widespread.
prior to that horses would be used to pull chariots and carts.

Just before posting this I checked this wikipedia page http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Domestication_of_the_horse
to see if there was an aproximate date, but it appears that theres considerable debate as to whether riding was invented before, after or in conjunction with Driving. which would seem to undermine the point I make above, but never mind , having a society which used chariots rather than riding certainly gives a more antique feel to a campaign.

Sea vs Land
in modern times we see the land as a means of transportation and the sea as a barrier between lands and nations. however in ancient times roads were less reliable or absent, and so the sea was the most important means of transportation for many people. thus the mediterranian, rather than serving as a barrier between what we now consider to be Europe and Africa was more of a highway between the cultures that surrounded it.
many greek stories are set at or near the sea, partly because greece is made up of so many islands. so I would include sea travel as a major part of an antique campaign.

the Oral Tradition
the legends that come down to us from the bronze age were part of an Oral tradition. reading something like the Odyssey you can imaging people sitting around the fire night after night while the storyteller comes up with the next misadventure that will befall Odysseus. I think its interesting that the roleplaying game is in many ways a continuation of this tradition. albeit with a bit more involvement from the players (probably...)
the episodic nature of an epic poem and a D&D game stem from the same fact. that each night a group of people will be returning to the storyteller, wanting to find out what happens next...

On a practical level i'd look at the sorts of words and phrases that Homer uses and try to include them in your DMing style. Refer to the Wine Dark Sea, or the Long Haired Heroes. and try to conjure up the image of those tales from thousands of years ago.

a_humble_lich
2011-07-02, 05:12 PM
By Dendra armour I generally think of something more like this (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dendra_panoply), which is from Mycenean era Greece. But armour like that should be really rare and valuable. In the Illiad, Homer regularly makes a point of mentioning heroes looting the armour from fallen foes.

In genral I agree with much of what was said, with the caveat that you are describing about 3000-4000 years of history, so at specific times and places things could be quite different. Especially politically, there were many large nations and empires throughout much of this time. In particular this was the time of China, Egypt, the Hitties,


Also, as far as iron age people people not knowing much about the outside world, that is only to the end of this period. The Romans had massive trade with India and China for silk. The Chinese sent an ambassador to Rome. King Ashoka in India send Buddist Missionaries to Alexandria. And the Greek explorer Pytheas (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pytheas) sailed to the British Isles and the Baltic Sea in around 320 BCE.

Connington
2011-07-02, 05:41 PM
Also, as far as iron age people people not knowing much about the outside world, that is only to the end of this period. The Romans had massive trade with India and China for silk. The Chinese sent an ambassador to Rome. King Ashoka in India send Buddist Missionaries to Alexandria. And the Greek explorer Pytheas (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pytheas) sailed to the British Isles and the Baltic Sea in around 320 BCE.


All of that is after the 500 BC date that Yora specified, and outside the flavor of Bronze Age/Early Iron Age storytelling.


Don't forget limited communication. News from the town over might only come weekly with the merchant caravans, and hearing about anything further away might take a month or more as it works its way through the grapevine.

Of course, this makes people who have reliable ways of knowing about far-off events powerful. So if a mighty king has a small army of fleet-footed messengers, or a powerful wizard/priest can spy on events from afar, it's a big deal

bebosteveo
2011-07-02, 05:56 PM
Also, as far as iron age people people not knowing much about the outside world, that is only to the end of this period. The Romans had massive trade with India and China for silk. The Chinese sent an ambassador to Rome. King Ashoka in India send Buddist Missionaries to Alexandria. And the Greek explorer Pytheas (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pytheas) sailed to the British Isles and the Baltic Sea in around 320 BCE.


True, but:

A. those were some of the most advanced and widespread empires of the time who needed knowledge of the world simply to operate and exist.
B. they were still only small fractions of their empires. The nobility and traveling merchants (very few in a world of sustenance farmers) might be more knowledgeable, but try getting joe-blow the farmer to read a map.
C. we can debate dates all we want, but I felt the OP wanted more of a 2500 BC bronze age feel rather than a dawn of the middle ages scenario.

In short: I agree that I may have overstated the lack of exploration, but more unknowns make it (at least feel) more prehistoric and more fitting within the OP's 500 BC or earlier setting.

Solaris
2011-07-02, 06:43 PM
Horses
Its been speculated that at least in the early bronze age people didn't ride horses, as the earliest domesticated breeds were too small for a man to ride. it wasn't until later that stronger breeds of horse that could carry a warrior were bred and cavalry as we understand it became more widespread.
prior to that horses would be used to pull chariots and carts.

You're doing good to correct yourself later on in your post. There are later breeds used as riding animals (the Mongolian steppe ponies, IIRC) that were smaller than or the same size as horses in antiquity.

a_humble_lich
2011-07-03, 02:05 AM
True, but:

A. those were some of the most advanced and widespread empires of the time who needed knowledge of the world simply to operate and exist.
B. they were still only small fractions of their empires. The nobility and traveling merchants (very few in a world of sustenance farmers) might be more knowledgeable, but try getting joe-blow the farmer to read a map.
C. we can debate dates all we want, but I felt the OP wanted more of a 2500 BC bronze age feel rather than a dawn of the middle ages scenario.

In short: I agree that I may have overstated the lack of exploration, but more unknowns make it (at least feel) more prehistoric and more fitting within the OP's 500 BC or earlier setting.

Yeah, I overstated things too.

A. I like Iron/Bronze age era games, but I think my version is different from the OP. It seems the OP was thinking of Jerico and the city states of Sumeria, of Homeric Greeks doing heroic things, of noble Scythian horsemen with golden fleece. Whereas I was thinking about wars between Egyptian and Assyrian Empires, Phoenician explorers traveling past the pillars of Hercules, and Rome being awesome. Not that one view or the other is wrong. As I said before, we are talking about a 4000 year span of history, and when you are designing a game setting you should emphasize the things you want for your game.

B. It amazes me how much communication there was in the ancient world. If I remember right Solon (the Athenian reformer) traveled to Egypt around 600 BCE (Wikipedia says he later went to Cyprus and Lydia). In the Illiad Ethiopia is casually mentioned, so even in Dark Ages Greece people knew at least somewhat of goings on outside, although they were shrouded in myth.

C. I didn't see that the OP set the cutoff date of 500 BC. When I think of the Iron age I generally think of a later period. My mistake.

Othniel Edden
2011-07-03, 02:34 AM
Not quite true that there are no Empires or Kingdoms in ancient times. Mesopotamia, and Egypt had both gone through more than a few dynasties and invasions that resulted in Empires

Bobby Archer
2011-07-03, 03:32 AM
the Oral Tradition
the legends that come down to us from the bronze age were part of an Oral tradition. reading something like the Odyssey you can imaging people sitting around the fire night after night while the storyteller comes up with the next misadventure that will befall Odysseus. I think its interesting that the roleplaying game is in many ways a continuation of this tradition. albeit with a bit more involvement from the players (probably...)
the episodic nature of an epic poem and a D&D game stem from the same fact. that each night a group of people will be returning to the storyteller, wanting to find out what happens next...

Going hand-in-hand with the idea of an oral tradition is the simple fact of illiteracy being the norm. The very idea or concept of being able to put ideas into a permanent form or to pull ideas out of glyphs and runes is the next thing to magic. It is surprisingly late in history that near-universal literacy was common. In earlier times (and certainly in the type of Bronze Age setting the OP is envisioning), being illiterate meant nothing with regard to intelligence or education, but the ability to read was something reserved for only members of certain castes.

Caste and Class Systems
Until relatively late in history, the vast majority of people had to work in the lowest class farming tasks just to support a civilization of any size. A few were members of higher classes, typically nobles and priests. The "middle class" of merchants and tradesmen was largely non-existent. Honestly, this should be mostly true even in the middle-age-based D&D-type games, but including this severe gap will drive home the difference in time period.

Most if not all of the PCs will be drawn from the noble or priest castes. No one else would have access to the training, education, and/or equipment necessary to become a hero of any kind. Most of the heroes of Greek myth are in one way or another connected to royalty for this reason. Instead of taking wealth plundered from foes or ancient tombs to a merchant and getting currency to trade for more weapons, etc, the PCs would take their plunder back to a noble patron who would allow them use of elements of their armory or the services of their court magicians. Same result, different method and different feel to the world.

Empires vs Nations
It has been pointed out by more than a few people that empires and dynasties did exist in the eras we're talking about. What there were not were nations. Empires are held together by individuals or familial lines, while nations exist as a combined force of culture and geography and are a very recent invention (within the last three or four hundred years). In a Bronze Age style world, you're not likely to have more than two empires (more likely one or less) within the scope your players will be acting in. The rest will be city-states and unincorporated or "barbaric" territory.

Yora
2011-07-03, 04:01 AM
Yeah, I overstated things too.

A. I like Iron/Bronze age era games, but I think my version is different from the OP. It seems the OP was thinking of Jerico and the city states of Sumeria, of Homeric Greeks doing heroic things, of noble Scythian horsemen with golden fleece. Whereas I was thinking about wars between Egyptian and Assyrian Empires, Phoenician explorers traveling past the pillars of Hercules, and Rome being awesome. Not that one view or the other is wrong. As I said before, we are talking about a 4000 year span of history, and when you are designing a game setting you should emphasize the things you want for your game.
I think historic accuracy is not important here. The idea is to create fantasy campaigns that feel ancient. If you mix elements that are seperated by thousands of years or even directly contradict each other, that's not a problem.
I frequently notice that when writing things for such campaigns, I'm constantly slipping back into the common late middle ages/rennaisance mindset and losing the focus on an ancient world. Anything that reminds you of the ancient theme of the campaign and things you should completely avoid is valuable.

(No) Demons and Angels: This one is probably highly subjective. But I always associate demons, angels with a very advanced scientific kind of magic. Tomes with the names of demons, summoners who conjure monsters to fight their enemies, demon lords in their black castles in hell, complex summoning rituals, and so on have a firm place in renaisance style fantasy (most really isn't medieval), but are very rare in older myths. That's not to say hell doesn't exist, and that heroes wouldn't go there, but when that happens, its a very rare event that is more a journey into the unknown than a planned expedition to gain an audience with a demon lord. I recommend using demons and angels only very sparingly and not just as strong monsters. There are hydras, sphinxes, sirens and other monsters much more hellish, but they are usually at home in this world. When dealing with demons, do it more indirectly, like a dark voice whispering promises from a magical pool or possessing the body of a price. Angelic beings are even more rare. The only ones I can think of are the devas, and I don't know how to really use them in a fantasy game.

paddyfool
2011-07-03, 04:05 AM
Fantasy Craft (http://www.studio2publishing.com/shop/product_info.php?cPath=110&products_id=3294) works out of the box for this. To begin with, the main game has its weapons categorised by four broad eras, so what's available, from clubs to black powder weapons, will depend primarily on how advanced your setting is. And it works even better with its main expansion, since that includes a setting called Epoch which has rules for a fantasy stone age/bronze age tech level world.

Kurgan
2011-07-03, 05:24 AM
Colonization: It is near the end of the 500BCE cutoff point, but the Greeks made colonies all across the Mediterranean. They settled in Anatolia, Northern Africa, Italy, Sicily, and the southern coast of France.

In terms of game, this would probably rear its head as pressures within the city state that led to the need for sending people away, or with the players as settlers in a new colony.

This one feeds off into:

Conflict: There were several conflicts between the Greek city states and between the colonies. If memory serves there was even an occasion where the people of one city diverted an entire river just to screw with one of their rivals. This topic is broad, yes, but really should be brought up.

Nomads/Barbarians: Completely going against another poster here on horses, but to me, horse raiders running through town wrecking up the place puts an ancient feel to things.

Origin Stories: Many cities have some sort of mythological origin, whether created by a god, a hero of legend, or so on. For example, one of Rome's founding myths involves a survivor from Troy traversing the Mediterranean, and eventually settling the area that became Rome.


(No) Demons and Angels
I'm not 100% on this one. I do agree that the way they are seen standard fantasy would have to go, but at the same time, a good number of these demons, devils, and angels have origins from ancient times. Whether as gods or spirits labeled as "demons" to discredit the old ways by the Christians or some other means, these creatures went from one thing to another.

EccentricCircle
2011-07-03, 06:19 AM
You're doing good to correct yourself later on in your post. There are later breeds used as riding animals (the Mongolian steppe ponies, IIRC) that were smaller than or the same size as horses in antiquity.

Yes, its interesting that the issue seems to be a lot more complicated than I had previously believed. i've been trying to find where I originally got that information from but if its a book then I don't have it here. judging by the wikipedia page it looks as though no one knows for sure quite which came first. I agree that the horses for which the mongols were famous were of a similar size to those from ancient times. but I wonder if the strength to carry someone and the size of the horse are directly linked. It may just be that my original information on the prevalence of chariots was wrong, it would be interesting to see some more information on the subject if anyone knows of any.

I wonder if there were regional differences between the size and strength of horses in different places. horses would have been domesticated in many different places by different people (as per the comments from other posters about the isolation of communities in the ancient world). so I'd think it was plausible that different breeds would have been used by different cultures at the same time. the Barbarians horses might have been very different to the horses of your civilised city states.

Othniel Edden
2011-07-03, 03:42 PM
(No) Demons and Angels: This one is probably highly subjective. But I always associate demons, angels with a very advanced scientific kind of magic. Tomes with the names of demons, summoners who conjure monsters to fight their enemies, demon lords in their black castles in hell, complex summoning rituals, and so on have a firm place in renaisance style fantasy (most really isn't medieval), but are very rare in older myths. That's not to say hell doesn't exist, and that heroes wouldn't go there, but when that happens, its a very rare event that is more a journey into the unknown than a planned expedition to gain an audience with a demon lord. I recommend using demons and angels only very sparingly and not just as strong monsters. There are hydras, sphinxes, sirens and other monsters much more hellish, but they are usually at home in this world. When dealing with demons, do it more indirectly, like a dark voice whispering promises from a magical pool or possessing the body of a price. Angelic beings are even more rare. The only ones I can think of are the devas, and I don't know how to really use them in a fantasy game.
I'm specifically looking at Sumerian Mythology when I mention this, but broadly at the middle east, and to some extent China and India. Demons are a common belief, angels on the other hand aren't. Most often sky and other deities are simply served by lesser deistic figures, such as elfs and dwarves in Norse myth, or djinn in middle eastern cultures, or nymphs and muses in Greek. In fact much of the Renaissance view of things focused on a revival of ancient ideals that were missing during the Medieval era. Their perceptions were off due to lack of information but the ideas are certainly there in ancient times.

Origins of Philosophy
The Bronze and Iron Ages were the genesis of philosophy as a system of ethics. During these ages Socrates, Lǎozǐ, Buddha and Confucius were writing, and each of their works were continued and refined by their proteges in later years. A campaign set during these areas could look the beginnings of philosophical movements, giving them rivals within conflicting philosophies and religion. Many philosophical texts at the time also had a mystical and a spiritual side in a time where gods are thought to be very active, so you need not play the skeptic or as if the philosophy is counter intuitive to a character with faith in gods.

Yora
2011-07-03, 04:06 PM
Yes, there are lots of beings refered to as demons in english all over the world, but mostly they are ver different from common fantasy demons as in D&D or Middle Earth.
Sure, use Rakshasa, Oni and Wendigos as you desire, but I'd stay away from 20 feet tall burning gargoyles on black thrones in iron castles, commanding armies of humanoid beetles with saw-bladed glaives with siege towers made from human bones behind them. It can work in a prehistoric campaign of course, but I think not having them is one way to help creating the archaic athmosphere.

I agree that philosophy can be an interesting introduction to a campaign. Without saying it's a bad idea, but aren't these philosophers one of the major markers that indicate the transformation from the ancient societies to the basis of modern civilization? I think it's called the Axial Age to point just that out.
Still a very fascinating theme, and probably quite interesting to have a campaign centered around these massive social changes that mark the end of an era that persisted for thousands of years.

Othniel Edden
2011-07-03, 04:49 PM
The difference there is that these philosophies aren't entrenched at this point. Having Herodotus, Homer, Socrates, and Hippocrates (all pre-classical figures btw) running around proclaiming these new ideas does a good job in showing the primitiveness by showing contrast of the world, and gives the campaign a non-static feeling.

Edit;These ideas are raw and not entrenched, their rituals undeveloped and no definitive texts have been written. Many of the philosophies could even be localized, as it takes a long time to spread ideas in a pre-printing press world.

It seems there is a lot of room on what can be in a iron and bronze age campaign, and setting interesting limits seems to be a good way to do things. Make sure that the important themes are expressed the length of the game, and be flexible with those things that aren't important.

Yora
2011-07-03, 04:52 PM
Also having some self proclaiming holy men with large numbers of followers wandering the land most probably doesn't sit too well with most rulers.

a_humble_lich
2011-07-03, 04:57 PM
As far as angles, demons, et al. goes I agree they do not belong. The entire good vs. evil dichotomy is more modern. You have nasty spirits like oni, fay, rakshasha, etc. But generally they are more mean, and wanting to eat people than actively trying to be *evil*. Similarly you have very few good entities. The gods in general can help or hinder depending on mood. I would strongly avoid the D&D concept of a "good" pantheon and an "evil" pantheon. At best you have fickly gods and then banished evil gods.

Othniel Edden
2011-07-03, 05:13 PM
Also having some self proclaiming holy men with large numbers of followers wandering the land most probably doesn't sit too well with most rulers.

Rebellion, insurrection, overthrown and riots is something that should be looked at.

Solaris
2011-07-03, 07:00 PM
As far as angles, demons, et al. goes I agree they do not belong. The entire good vs. evil dichotomy is more modern. You have nasty spirits like oni, fay, rakshasha, etc. But generally they are more mean, and wanting to eat people than actively trying to be *evil*. Similarly you have very few good entities. The gods in general can help or hinder depending on mood. I would strongly avoid the D&D concept of a "good" pantheon and an "evil" pantheon. At best you have fickly gods and then banished evil gods.

I'm inclined to disagree with the "Good vs Evil dichotomy is more modern" statement, and here's (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zoroastrianism) why. "No such thing as good and evil", on the other hand, is very much more modern.
You're thinking of the Greeks, really. They were the ones who had the dickish pantheon. Few others were omnibenevolent, but most were at least not worshiped out of fear.

Connington
2011-07-04, 04:01 AM
You're thinking of the Greeks, really.

And the Babylonians, the Egyptians, Celts, Ancient Hindus and Chinese. Most ancient mythologies seemed to consider the gods or spirits to be capricious types who often had other things to do than worry about humans (aside from favored heroes or city-states).

Zoroastrianism is a definite counter-example, but its good vs evil setup is the exception, not the rule. You could include a Zoroastrian style religion in a bronze age setting (maybe paired with a conquering empire like the Persians), but I'd argue against making it the baseline.

Kiero
2011-07-04, 04:12 AM
Colonization: It is near the end of the 500BCE cutoff point, but the Greeks made colonies all across the Mediterranean. They settled in Anatolia, Northern Africa, Italy, Sicily, and the southern coast of France.

In terms of game, this would probably rear its head as pressures within the city state that led to the need for sending people away, or with the players as settlers in a new colony.


Not just the Greeks, you're overlooking the foremost major maritime and colonising power of the age, the Phoenicians. They settled Sicily, the Balaeres, Sardinia and Corsica, Spain, northern Africa and southern France. They often both traded with, and came into conflict with the Greek colonies, and much of the Western Mediterranean's history was about the rivalry between them. And much later the rising power of Rome.

Indeed it was a Phoenician offshoot out-lasting it's founder that became one of the greatest maritime powers of a later age (ie Carthage). No one could travel through the Straits of Gibraltar without their say-so, which was one of the things that made Pytheas' voyage all the more special.

Othniel Edden
2011-07-04, 05:15 AM
And the Babylonians, the Egyptians, Celts, Ancient Hindus and Chinese. Most ancient mythologies seemed to consider the gods or spirits to be capricious types who often had other things to do than worry about humans (aside from favored heroes or city-states).
From what I've been reading most systems aren't that capricious. The Greek gods did care about a certain sin among mortals, that is hubris, and many were punished accordingly. They promoted certain morals, such as hospitality, and there was definitely a system of divine judgement in the afterlife on mortals for the types of lives they lived according to a moral system.

In fact the Pharisaic and Sumerian pantheons in fact have clear struggles between the god guys and bad guys in their pantheons. Apep and Ra, Osiris and Set, Ea and Tiamat, all show clear sides in their good verus evil conflicts. Egyptians even worshiped the ideals of Muat, a governing concept of the gods. The gods didn't interfere in the world because they had other concerns in many myths.

Kurgan
2011-07-04, 05:45 AM
Not just the Greeks, you're overlooking the foremost major maritime and colonising power of the age, the Phoenicians. They settled Sicily, the Balaeres, Sardinia and Corsica, Spain, northern Africa and southern France. They often both traded with, and came into conflict with the Greek colonies, and much of the Western Mediterranean's history was about the rivalry between them. And much later the rising power of Rome.

Indeed it was a Phoenician offshoot out-lasting it's founder that became one of the greatest maritime powers of a later age (ie Carthage). No one could travel through the Straits of Gibraltar without their say-so, which was one of the things that made Pytheas' voyage all the more special.

Whoops, somehow the Phoenicians slipped my mind. Yes, include them with colonization as well.

Yora
2011-07-04, 07:24 AM
I'm doing my bachelor on religious traditions, and from my experience Good and Evil as absolute cosmic powers are a concept found almost exclusively in monotheistic religions. I don't know much about Zoroaster, but he seemed to be a unique case in many aspects.
But in other religions, I don't know about any similar concepts. You often have a distinction between what's "in harmony with the cosmos" and what is "against harmony", or beings that are helpful to humans and dangerous to humans. A monster might kill and destroy according to it's own violent nature, or a dark wizard causes misfortune because he disturbes the cosmic harmony, but there are no cosmic forces of Light and Darkness in an eternal struggle to protect or corrupt mortals.
In that regard, a demon is a manifestation of the cosmic forces of destruction or death, but in that function they perform their role in harmony with the cosmic order. Things are nice, honorable, and virtuous, but they are not "good", and others are horrible, despicable, and call for harsh punishment, but they are not "evil" in a sense that they defied the laws laid out by a higher authority.

Mark Hall
2011-07-04, 09:16 AM
The place I would probably start is the AD&D supplement "Age of Heroes", which is specifically pointed at Bronze/Iron Age Greece. The green books in general are a good resource for historical campaigns... I wish they'd done more.

Othniel Edden
2011-07-04, 02:04 PM
Well excuse me for confusing virtuous with good.:smallamused:

Yora
2011-07-04, 02:08 PM
In normal cause it's really the same thing. But as a philosophical concepts, such things are handled very differently in different societies and philosophies, with the terms Good and Evil really just being used in the western world.

Arbane
2011-07-04, 04:02 PM
I'd suggest that most enemies should be other human beings. D&D's "fantasy zoo" is pretty usual, and most mythological monsters that were fought were unique creatures. Yes, you can have the occasional horde of ant-headed men or venomous sheep, but that should be pretty uncommon.

Knaight
2011-07-04, 05:01 PM
I'd suggest that most enemies should be other human beings. D&D's "fantasy zoo" is pretty usual, and most mythological monsters that were fought were unique creatures. Yes, you can have the occasional horde of ant-headed men or venous sheep, but that should be pretty uncommon.
I'd recommend this for pretty much any age, and pretty much any genre. Space Opera may be an exception at times, but that's about it.

Yanagi
2011-07-04, 10:52 PM
I'm doing my bachelor on religious traditions, and from my experience Good and Evil as absolute cosmic powers are a concept found almost exclusively in monotheistic religions.

The problem with that assessment is that it's tautological; monotheism explicitly condenses everything into one deific forces that possess anthropomorphic qualities: there's no possibility other than Absoulute Good being synonymous with the single deity. Absolute Evil is, in fact, not a consistent unilateral feature of any religion: indeed the defining of traits and powers of Adversary figures has undergone many convolutions with existing monotheisms. There's also the issues raised by theodicy, which struggled with the contradiction of asserting an omnipotent Absolute Good deity that permits the existence of evil, both of the Absolute cosmological and the human variety.

In polytheisic traditions Absolute Good is often a non-embodied feature of the cosmos that both men and deities are striving to adhere to or maintain: Dharma, Rta, Me, Ma'at, De, Yolteotl, et cetera. In some traditions there are also forces or figures of Absolute Evil--above and beyond the standard array of petty, selfish malefic creatures--that attempt to un-make Absolute Good by destroying the cosmos.

In turn, "Good" deities are often seen as manifestations, emanations or aspects of the diffuse "Absolute Good"--in some cases, this is even refined to a nondualist construction where an given deity is a metonym for Absolute Good.


I don't know much about Zoroaster, but he seemed to be a unique case in many aspects.

The Avesta and the Gathas form the basis of a central Asian religious complex that in different eras and regions manifested as different coherent traditions: Mazdaism, Zurvanism, Manicheanism, etc. It gets complex, because at different times "Zoroastrianism" is monotheist, cosmic dualist, kathenotheist, and properly polytheist.


But in other religions, I don't know about any similar concepts. You often have a distinction between what's "in harmony with the cosmos" and what is "against harmony", or beings that are helpful to humans and dangerous to humans.

Monotheism defines the cosmos as synonymous with a single omnipotent being. The conceptual drift isn't particuarly astounding. One can even see the intellectual transition occur in religions with a continuous commentary tradition, like Zoroastrianism and Hinduism, where the abstract "Goodness of the cosmos" in early religious forms elides into the "pleasing to the single Absolutely Good deity" with societal shifts.


A monster might kill and destroy according to it's own violent nature, or a dark wizard causes misfortune because he disturbes the cosmic harmony, but there are no cosmic forces of Light and Darkness in an eternal struggle to protect or corrupt mortals.

The foundation of most mythologies is divine beings fighting against forces that want to destroy humanity and/or the cosmos. They might not be shoulder angels, but it's pretty explicit that they're working for the good of living humans.


In that regard, a demon is a manifestation of the cosmic forces of destruction or death, but in that function they perform their role in harmony with the cosmic order. Things are nice, honorable, and virtuous, but they are not "good", and others are horrible, despicable, and call for harsh punishment, but they are not "evil" in a sense that they defied the laws laid out by a higher authority.

What with being an active member of the oldest continuous polytheist tradition in existence, I'll disagree Your claims certainly don't mesh for the five or six polytheistic moral systems I'm familiar with, either in their past or present forms.

In most mythic traditions there are malefic beings that represent the uncertainties of the world the lead to death--illness, drought, war--but also those that embody the anti-social traits of human beings...inappropriate drives and impulses that could lead to harm of others. None of the above are shrugged off as being "natural to the cosmic order"--indeed, the opposite...their existence and their triumphs are often specifically characterized as in violation thereof.

As to the rest of that paragraph...well you're just plain wrong--like painfully, not-just-a-small-misunderstanding wrong in a way that I'm not sure I can address the bad assumptions.

Basically, when you're talking about Bronze Age polytheistic religions--dawn of civilization stuff--a common feature is that the moral, social, and physical universe are seen as continuous. Moral actions are literally encoded in the order of the cosmos, and immorality is functionally damage to the social order and the cosmos. So while there might or might not be a moral metaphysic in which punishment/rewards are assigned in the afterlife, there is most definitely and standard by which Good and Evil are attributed.

Anxe
2011-07-04, 11:29 PM
I did a bronze age campaign once. I used this book (http://www.greenronin.com/store/product/grr1405e.html) as my rule/setting guide. It didn't work so well and after two sessions we decided to go back to the regular high fantasy mish-mash of settings and cultures that I usually use. That may speak badly of the book or it may show only that me and my players don't enjoy that period for roleplaying.

Anyways, I have found the book to be a good source for its rules about armies and how to make them more threatening than a horde of mooks. I have recommended it for that before. I'd recommend it for just the normal setting also, but as I don't like that setting I don't think I can contribute much else.

Yora
2011-07-05, 06:07 AM
Basically, when you're talking about Bronze Age polytheistic religions--dawn of civilization stuff--a common feature is that the moral, social, and physical universe are seen as continuous. Moral actions are literally encoded in the order of the cosmos, and immorality is functionally damage to the social order and the cosmos. So while there might or might not be a moral metaphysic in which punishment/rewards are assigned in the afterlife, there is most definitely and standard by which Good and Evil are attributed.

I don't see how this contradicts my statements: Most concepts of what could be called evil are a lack or absence of Good, but not an opposition to Good. When demons tempt virtous mortals, they are attempting to get them to abandon the rules by which humans can live in harmony with the cosmos. When people ignore the cosmic rules, they bring harm to themselves and the community, which makes such behavior reprehensible and forbidden.
But as I see it, this is something fundamentally different from the modern western concept of evil as represented by the satan. This is an Evil that is opposed to Good, that works towards destruction and suffering for the sake of destruction and suffering. And I think such a concept of active Evil appears only in Europe in the last centuries.

Yanagi
2011-07-05, 04:07 PM
I don't see how this contradicts my statements: Most concepts of what could be called evil are a lack or absence of Good, but not an opposition to Good. When demons tempt virtous mortals, they are attempting to get them to abandon the rules by which humans can live in harmony with the cosmos. When people ignore the cosmic rules, they bring harm to themselves and the community, which makes such behavior reprehensible and forbidden.
But as I see it, this is something fundamentally different from the modern western concept of evil as represented by the satan. This is an Evil that is opposed to Good, that works towards destruction and suffering for the sake of destruction and suffering. And I think such a concept of active Evil appears only in Europe in the last centuries.

Um, you do realize you just moved your goalpost from "monotheism" to "Satan in Christianity in Europe in the last centuries"?

Your distinction of "disrupting harmony through temptation versus destruction and suffering for their own sake" isn't sustained by a cross-cultural comparison, particularly if one treats traditional demonology as a subset of theodicy. Both constructs exist and run concurrent from as early as the 3rd millenium BCE, going just from text references. Hekau temple scripts, Sumerian-Babylonian discussions of utukku and edimmu, the early Puranas and esoteric sections of the Upa-vedas--all of these undermine your proposition. This all gets even more blurry when one factors folk tradition versus scholastic sources.

Your proposition also runs into issues when you consider that "Satan" is hardly a stable construct in Christianity, and is frequently altered by scholarly and popular movements.

I won't go any farther because I can't get into specifics without breaking board rules.

---

Here's the thing: your point about Bronze Age religion and cosmology for the purposes of this thread is not accurate to "real life," nor does it add anything to a simulated or derivative setting to follow your constraints.

Notreallyhere77
2011-07-05, 05:06 PM
What system were you planning to use?
I'd personally recommend Iron Heroes for this kind of thing.
Magic is special, and rare. Heroes are larger-than-life. Good and Evil are subjective, and alignment is severely downplayed. You can limit the weapon/armor selection easily, to represent the technology level you want to emulate.
If you want, you can also use the supplement rule in the 3.0 Arms and Equipment Guide for the mechanics of stone, bone, and bronze equipment.

Yora
2011-07-07, 03:44 AM
Slaves: Ancient societies are much more likely to have have high numbers of slaves. Not just galley slaves and miners who die like flies, but also household servants, scribes, healers and so on. In some circumstances, the slaves may even highly outnumber the free citizens.

Ossian
2011-07-07, 03:56 AM
What system were you planning to use?
I'd personally recommend Iron Heroes for this kind of thing.
Magic is special, and rare. Heroes are larger-than-life. Good and Evil are subjective, and alignment is severely downplayed. You can limit the weapon/armor selection easily, to represent the technology level you want to emulate.
If you want, you can also use the supplement rule in the 3.0 Arms and Equipment Guide for the mechanics of stone, bone, and bronze equipment.

True. Also, combat styles might have been different. Not an expert but D&D seems to be geared towards L.A.R.P.ers perception of European medieval melee styles. (ie nothing to do with how real hand to hand combat was in actuality). Considering how much you should be downplaying magic items and magic classes, as well as heavy armour and weaponry, I'd give the players an edge by granting a few feats.

Somethink like "weapon focus - short spear / or shortsword" , "power throw" or "improved shield bash" seem to work OK for a bronze age type of campaign (Achilles &Co., but you might have just as well Phoenicians, Etruscans, Romans, Kelts etc...)

Othniel Edden
2011-07-07, 05:23 AM
Slaves: Ancient societies are much more likely to have have high numbers of slaves. Not just galley slaves and miners who die like flies, but also household servants, scribes, healers and so on. In some circumstances, the slaves may even highly outnumber the free citizens.

Slaves will also encompass what might be considered upper class these days. For example physicians were often employed as slaves. Many handled accounting, or even outright running of businesses. It was even a somewhat common practice to sell family members into slavery if you were in debt, and for many it was considered a better life as the slave of a rich man, then to be free and poor.

stack
2011-07-07, 07:15 AM
When setting up empires and city states, lands suitable for family farming (Greece) tend to support city-states and other small polities. Anytime large-scale irrigation is required (Babylon), it demands a higher level of organization. This also lends itself well to larger empires, bureaucracy, and Mesopotamian style god-kings.

This also builds in a nice contrast between cultures.

Arbane
2011-07-08, 11:53 AM
Family is a BIG DEAL. Remember, this is pre-Feudalism, pre-Nations. Who you're related to is really important, as they may be the only ones who care if you get in trouble.

Yora
2011-07-08, 12:58 PM
And also you get those horrible family feuds and internal wars of succession.

Othniel Edden
2011-07-08, 01:17 PM
Family is a BIG DEAL. Remember, this is pre-Feudalism, pre-Nations. Who you're related to is really important, as they may be the only ones who care if you get in trouble.

Often times they are the ones who put you there. How often did son in laws becomes kings simply because fathers, cousins and uncles went after living male relatives? Your own family seems as likely to kill you as help you.

Knaight
2011-07-08, 03:40 PM
Often times they are the ones who put you there. How often did son in laws becomes kings simply because fathers, cousins and uncles went after living male relatives? Your own family seems as likely to kill you as help you.

Violence related to ambition within families is linked pretty closely to social class. A family of farmers isn't nearly as likely to see that happen as a family that rules a city state.

Othniel Edden
2011-07-08, 04:36 PM
Sorry, History Major focusing on monarchies during the middle ages. A tendency to overlook those without political power may be in effect.

Yora
2011-07-10, 04:11 AM
Any more tips about equipment and location design and such things?

Captain Six
2011-07-10, 06:15 PM
A minor note but I recomend not using any modifiers you find in supplements for whatever metal is the most common material. Steel weapons have no penalty or bonus because they are the assumed default. If they are no longer the assumed default then they shouldn't be the easiest material to work with rule-wise.

UserClone
2011-07-11, 09:20 AM
Absolutely. Just treat Bronze as the normal steel weapons, and give steel weapons extra hp and hardness and voila, steel is special again. Additionally, any steel weapon should automatically be masterwork.

Othniel Edden
2011-07-11, 12:14 PM
Any more tips about equipment and location design and such things?

Most things of this era revolved around the walled city, whether you are dealing with kingdoms, city states or empires. Siege weapons are going to be important in any battle. Often times cities weren't captured but razed to the ground and rebuilt. Losing a siege meant slavery or death for most of your people. Outside of the cities you mostly have agriculture or pastoral lands.

Innovation often meant dominance for whatever powers were there. The Assyrians rose up because of the adaptation of iron weaponry for example, and the Greeks had success against the Persians because of their thick powerful shields. Every minor advantage could be used to win a battle.

UserClone
2011-07-11, 12:35 PM
Along those lines, the trebuchet and Greek Fire were huge advantages as well, and same goes for Spartan training, discipline, and tactics (i.e. "turtling," shield wall, etc).

I believe that there is a free supplement available through Paizo's online store as a PDF which deals with bronze-age adventuring, by the way.

Spiryt
2011-07-11, 01:01 PM
Innovation often meant dominance for whatever powers were there. The Assyrians rose up because of the adaptation of iron weaponry for example, and the Greeks had success against the Persians because of their thick powerful shields. Every minor advantage could be used to win a battle.

Greeks had success against Persians from hundreds of reasons (when they actually had success), and not because of "powerful shields", because many of people from different cultures serving in vast Persian army obviously were using big thick shields as well.

It's not especially tricky invention. Some examples with notes where it's taken from (http://www.cais-soas.com/CAIS/History/hakhamaneshian/achaemenid_army.htm#_ftn67)


Along those lines, the trebuchet

I don't really think trebuchet was widely used before medieval, let alone in Bronze Age.

Onagers, and generally torsion operating catapults were quite common among powers employing siege machines, but not trebuchets AFAIR.

Kiero
2011-07-11, 05:16 PM
Greeks had success against Persians from hundreds of reasons (when they actually had success), and not because of "powerful shields", because many of people from different cultures serving in vast Persian army obviously were using big thick shields as well.


There were also plenty of Greeks on the Persian side; Persian monarchs didn't bother raising their own heavy infantry of the Greek style when there were thousands of Greek mercs available much more cheaply (and less likely to revolt).

Formations like the Kardakes (a Persian hoplite) were a novelty rather than a serious attempt to reform the way Persian armies fought.

GraaEminense
2011-07-12, 04:45 AM
I have been working on a Middle Eastern Bronze Age setting for quite a while, landing on 1200 BC as the most interesting period (height of chariot warfare, lots of important empires emerging or declining, just before the mysterious disasters that destroyed so many civilizations, iron just beginning to make a mark, horseriding still (maybe) very exotic...). But Bronze and Iron Age encompass so much, in so many different places, that they can be nearly anything you want.

Long preamble to short advice: Get hold of and read Hammurabi's Code, the Babylonian collection of laws from around 1700 BC. It's quite short, but it contains a wealth of information regarding an advanced, ancient society and, most importantly, their priorities and perceptions. Very useful when designing ancient civilizations, I'm using it extensively (even though it's 500 years off... it's just so accessible).

UserClone
2011-07-12, 08:46 AM
I don't really think trebuchet was widely used before medieval, let alone in Bronze Age.

Onagers, and generally torsion operating catapults were quite common among powers employing siege machines, but not trebuchets AFAIR.

Nope, you're correct. The hand-trebuchet was in use, but the counterweight version was not. Casks of Greek Fire were generally hurled by those or Onagers.

Yora
2011-07-12, 09:29 AM
Long preamble to short advice: Get hold of and read Hammurabi's Code, the Babylonian collection of laws from around 1700 BC. It's quite short, but it contains a wealth of information regarding an advanced, ancient society and, most importantly, their priorities and perceptions. Very useful when designing ancient civilizations, I'm using it extensively (even though it's 500 years off... it's just so accessible).

Ancient legal codes are a great way to gain some insight into old societies, though one has to take them with a grain of salt. For one thing, they are usually concerned primarily with behaviour that is not socially aceptable and deals with situations that were the exception instead of the norm. Though often these laws also include instructions on how settlements are reached and some degree of normality can be reestablished. But even then, those are solutions to fix problems, which don't neccissarily have to be how people prefered it when possible.
On the other hand, until you get to post-industrial bureaucracy, when something is written into a law, this means that people did engage in the activities that were forbidden by the law on a quite regular basis. Were alcohol is forbidden and described as a vice, you know people were having quite a drinking problem.

GraaEminense
2011-07-12, 03:27 PM
True. Using legal texts or other forms of normative material should be done with caution, and what isn't there is as important as what is.

For example, Hammurabi's Code has nothing about murder. That shouldn't be taken to mean murder did not happen in ancient Babylon, but that it most likely was seen as the responsibility of families or clans to handle this on their own. On the other hand there's quite a bit on how violence against social superiors should be punished, indicating a focus on social order and probably fear of the lower classes.

Trade, temples, inheritance, slavery... it's all there, and it says a lot about an ancient society.