31 August 2011

Barael's Europe

We're talking about the Shepherd Map, which shows The Germanic Kingdoms and the East Roman Empire in 486 AD. At this early stage, I'm still figuring out exactly what's what, which is code for "You're going to read about the setting as I create it." For now, that means I'll start with generalities and zero in on details later (and sporadically at that—my goal is to "seed" the setting and let individual GMs decide the on the specifics for themselves).

1 hex = 125 miles
I've applied a 125-mile hex grid, which will ultimately fit into the Welsh Piper hex grid templates when I detail individual areas. This puts the map at 2,855 x 2,232 miles, or 6,372,360 square miles. To put this in proper perspective, I'd say that's about the size of Greyhawk.

The map shows continental Europe packed with Germanic Kingdoms populated by barbarian peoples who live by might, sorcery, and cunning (and by sorcery, I mean pagan demon-stuff). With few exceptions, each Germanic Kingdom is a confederacy of petty states who cooperate only to thwart the aggression of neighbouring kingdoms. When not so engaged, they fight amongst themselves. Most are ruled by kings or sub-kings, but some are under the control of sorcerers who use demonic allies and minions to enforce their rule.

The East Roman Empire is all that remains of the Roman supremacy that once stretched west to Gibraltar, yet Christianity still holds sway there, and it is far more ordered than the Germanic Kingdoms as a result. While firmly rooted in the land of its birth, Eastern Christendom seeks to recapture the Holy Lands of Europe, where the great evil of pagan gods was once defeated. It is the hope of the Church that the Germanic warlords will again bow before the cross (else it is the task of the Christian fighting orders to make them kneel under the sword).

There are four principle areas shown on the map:
  • Germanic Kingdoms (shaded areas): "Civilised" and thus support cities, towns, agriculture, and commerce. In the absence of Roman stability, many have reverted to the pagan ways of the Germanic Paganism (Wotan). However, some are Arian Christian (West Goths, Vandals, and Lombards), having "broken" from the Catholic church adopted by Rome under Constantine. [1]
  • East Roman Empire (green shaded border): Consisting primarily of Thrace, Illyricum, Asia Minor, and Egypt. This is the seat of Christian power in the setting—any Christian found outside the Empire is either an Arian, a missionary, or a crusader.
  • Lost Colonies (British Isles): The Roman departure from the British Isles left them just as (if not more) chaotic than when they arrived. The barbarians who remained—the Celts, the Picts, and the Britons—fell alternately to warring amongst themselves and defending their borders from the Angles, Jutes, Saxons, and Frisians who turned greedy eyes toward the Isles when the Romans left. It's possible that this is the most tumultuous place on the map.
  • Wilderness (white areas): Holy crap, these are crazy places! The Darkness mentioned in Barael's Blade is creeping across these lands, encroaching upon Christian holds and pagan states alike. The wilderness is populated by nomads and barbarian horsemen, dragons, giants, demons, and worse.
Next up, a quick capsule history of How Things Came to Be.
Listening to: Marian McPartland, Marian McPartland with Dave Brubeck
  1. Fr. Dave notes that "Heretics were not killed by the Romans, they were banished to the barbarian lands outside the Empire. There, they managed to find some footholds." IOW, Arian Christians exiled from Rome no doubt found there way to Arian states. Certainly, some ended up knee-deep in the wilderness, surrounded by yapping horsemen with bows, but maybe these guys weren't Christian anyway...I like to think it all worked out for them.

25 August 2011

Source Material

An underlying goal of this campaign is to provide a framework that other GMs can build on. Not that Barael's Europe will be devoid of detail—rather, it should have just enough for GMs to expand on in whatever way feels natural to them.

I'm limiting myself to the following source material:

Swords & Wizardry Core Rules (4th Printing)
This is my first campaign setting using S&W, and to give it a fair shake, I plan to use it pretty much by-the-book (UPDATE: scratch that--I'll be including my house rules here and there, as they're developed). This will speed things along and also help me identify what areas are in need of tweaking for my next campaign (IOW, no need to preemptively "fix" anything until I decide it's "broken"). One caveat: since I'm limiting myself to the 4 Core classes (cleric, fighter, magic-user, and thief), I may inject some sort of "career paths" to help define specific character roles. There may be some minor table tweaks (e.g., the "to-hit" progression for each class, which is non-uniform and seems to give magic-users more punch than I think I like at first blush), and definitely some equipment updates (e.g., no plate mail).

Penguin Atlas of Medieval History
By Colin McEvedy, this book is a great summary of medieval European History. Each page is a map of Europe, covering topics such as language, religion, trade routes, barbarian invasions, etc. For our purposes, we need only the first 20 pages or so (i.e., up to 528 AD), but the capsule overview provides plenty of information for campaign use—at least enough of a springboard to other research if the GM desires. (affiliate link)

Shepherd's Map
The cartography that started it all. The image at right is a cropped version of the original, showing only Europe (I ditched the two maps of England, essentially because they depicted different time frames). I don't expect to do much alteration on the map. In general terms, coloured areas are "civilised," while white areas are terra incognita, populated by barbarian peoples and terrible monsters. Place names will remain, just to avoid mucking about with the map labels. Due to the detail shown, this is obviously for GMs' eyes only, and I'm sorely tempted to create a Hexographer version for players.

Zak and Jeff
Two blog posts will guide my planning:
I have some ancillary references, but they're area-specific. For example, Ian Malcomson's "Dark Ages" article from DRAGON #257 has some good period info for Anglo-Saxon Britain; Udi Levy's "The Lost Civilization of Petra" explores a great ruined city/dungeon complex, and Barnes & Noble's "Book of Saints: A Day-by-Day Illustrated Encyclopedia" will no doubt prove valuable for religious background within the campaign. I'll reference them as needed.

Next up, let's take a closer look at Shepherd's map.
Listening to: Joe Jackson, Night & Day

23 August 2011

Setting Overview and Ground Rules

If you happen to be in an elevator with me and ask, "What's this Bastard's Blade campaign about?" you'd get a reply something like this:
The Roman Empire that once dominated the civilised world has been reduced to a fraction of its former glory, and the barbarian warlords who pushed it back are the new masters of Europe. They have reawakened the old gods Christianity put to sleep, but in so doing, let loose powers they had forgotten how to control. Europe is a chaotic realm of warriors, sorcerers, and thief-kings, all vying for power and wealth in the vacuum of Roman stability. Will the PCs seek fortune as mercenaries in the service of a barbarian warlord? Or perhaps they’ll win a name by recovering the treasures of ruined Christian halls. Maybe still they’ll stem the tide of Chaos and revive the worship of the One God to bring order to an unruly land.
There's a lot potential there, so I'm going to lay down some ground rules to keep me on the beam:

The Map is Canon
I'll describe and populate the map based on what the map shows, so where there's a question about borders, cities, natural features, etc., the map is considered authoritative.

History Optional
I will neither achieve nor strive for 100% historical accuracy. This means I will misinterpret stuff, ignore important details, and reinvent in directions that real-life historical figures and events did not go. My goal is to create a setting based on history, not to follow the track of real world history in my setting.

Religious Freedom
At the time depicted by the map, Christendom consisted of Arian states, the Roman Catholic church, and Eastern Orthodoxy. Judaism exists in the Middle East, Zoroastrianism to some extent in the Persian Empire, and other various pagan states throughout Africa, and the Eastern lands. I'm bound to oversimplify the religious landscape to suit the campaign, but I do so only as an expedient to play and not, by any means, as a commentary on any religion or statement of faith. Feel free to send me a gentle reminder if you feel I've crossed this line.

Fantasy Stuff
I'll translate the S&W rules to what I hope to be intuitive historical analogues. Again, there's a lot of room for interpretation (e.g., what's does "magic-user" mean in fantasy Europe of 486?), but I'll explain myself where the need arises, and ask you to bear with me ('cause it won't all make sense).

Pick and Choose
There's every chance that I'll inject bits and pieces of historical "what-if" into the mix. It may not be practical, and it probably won't be the logical outcome of historical precedent. But, this is about making an exciting setting, so there's going to be a few mystery cults, some undead pontiffs, magical weapons like Excalibur, "real-life" golems and djinn, and white dragons on the Asian steppe. I'll try to weave them into the setting logically, but given that this is magic and the real world isn't, you'll need to suspend your disbelief here and there.

Next up, a short list of source material.
Listening to: Antibalas, Who Is This America?

21 August 2011

Starting Off

Hi. My name's Erin. You may know me from such favourites as The Welsh Piper, or The Chimera RPG.

Click for Barael's Blade
A few months ago, I stumbled upon Historical Atlas (copyright © 1911 William R. Shepherd). One particular map, The Germanic Kingdoms and the East Roman Empire in 486, really held my interest. The year 486 AD is the Year of the Consulship of Basilius and Longinus. It is the exile of Emperor Nepos to Dalmatia. It is the rise of Odoacer, the end of the Roman Empire in Western Europe, and the beginning of the Middle Ages. It is the time of a young Celtic warlord named Arthur.

At the same time, The Sword song, Barael’s Blade has been playing in my head. In the shower, on the bus, at work, while mowing the lawn. I checked out the lyrics, which practically beg to be converted into a fantasy setting.

Shepherd's map and Barael's Blade? Your cartography is in my metal. No, your metal is in my cartography.

My goal is to make this map into a comprehensive Swords & Wizardry campaign setting, incorporating the bits suggested by Barael's Blade. We'll see how it goes.

Next up, an elevator pitch and "rules of engagement."
Listening to: (what else?) The Sword, Age of Winters