We have our Adventurers, and we have Dungeons for them to cavort around it. In describing them we’ve sort of implied a context for the rest of the setting. Let’s run through that quickly.
- Adventurers are a known and specific class of generally powerful individuals known to cause problems as often as they solve them.
- Anyone can potentially become an Adventurer, but few do, owing to the effort involved in uprooting your life and the general lethality of Adventuring.
- The landscape is littered with dungeons of great danger and potential financial reward.
- Many of these dungeons are ancient ruins.
- There was an ancient advanced Elven civilization.
- Adventuring has a dramatic impact on the local economy.
- Guilds exist as a thing. So does a nobility.
So from this we can sort of imagine a quasi-feudal landscape filled with danger. Adventurers are tolerated, why? Maybe the world is just that dangerous. In fact, let’s say that it is, as FRPG tropes imply a high frequency of random encounters with fierce beasts just in the course of daily travel. Just… just monsters everywhere.
So with so many monsters (so many) how can civilization persist?
Civilization among the monsters
The default situation is one of chaos and danger. Predators exist in numbers greater than a sensible ecology could reasonably be expected to support, so let’s put a pin in figuring out why. We could just backtrack and say that encounters with dangerous monsters or fierce predators are actually relatively uncommon, but that goes against the strengths of the games we’re going to be playing. In a very abstract way, let’s say that an encounter with a dangerous beast is possible once a day, and likely once a week. These encounters don’t always result in combat, but there you go. Still way more dangerous than in the real world.
So we have this monster haunted wilderness. Add civilization. Towns, cities, villages. There’s a pacifying effect… settlements mean organized human resistance. Not that monsters never attack, but you’re safer in numbers. Safer yet if you build a wall, maintain a militia. So any communities we run into have some sort of defense against the darkness surrounding them, or else they’d be dead. This pacification doesn’t extend far… say only within a mile or so band, enough for the growing of crops, but where possible the crops are within the walls, too.
So a lot of isolates. People rarely travel, and when they do, they do so in large groups. This is not too different from pre-industrial societies where a peasant was likely to be born and die without ever leaving the sounding range of his village’s church bells.
To have gotten to this point, though, civilization had to have advanced to the point where fortifications and the like were at least possible. So maybe all the monsters weren’t always there. This brings us back to our ecological problem; the preponderance of monsters is an artificial crisis. Dates back, at most, to the bronze age. Maybe the gods stopped protecting us, or maybe wizards did it, or maybe it’s an otherworldly invasion. Pandora’s box got opened. We’ll think of something cool that makes an interesting hook.
For now, though, we have a sparsely populated landscape of isolated communities where travel is dangerous and uncommon. So there’s a greater degree of self-sufficiency, which works well with a Feudal power structure. There’s a king, sure, but for all practical purposes the local lords are on their own and operate with minimal oversight. Small villages and isolates are uncommon due to the danger; towns are more frequent, and there’s a greater frequency of cities than in the real world, though they’re far apart.
As I said in the first post in this series, we’re developing a world based on the “Old World” briefly mentioned in Ibu: The Emerald Canopy. I didn’t elaborate much in the book because it was just a generic placeholder, but here’s what we’ve got to work with.
- The Etatian Empire is loosely based on the Holy Roman Empire with an age of sail twist. There are a number of client states, each of which gets a vote for the Imperial Seat. More French and Italian than German.
- Vaquero is a mix of post-reconquista Spain and colonial Mexico. Vast open plains, a powerful navy, machismo.
- The Staten is a northern land of ice and snow, Scandinavia having just outgrown its Dark Age “viking” phase. Independent kingdoms united in an almost-democratic Confederacy.
- The Alem Caliphate is more of a near neighbor, but it’s mostly what you’d expect from the Near East. A little ancient Persia, a little Ottoman Empire, a lot less monotheism.
- The Avelonian Empire is an elven colonial power based on an island, very early British but with more of a Celtic influence and Elven snootiness. I don’t want them to be a direct analog to the British Empire, but there will certainly be parallels. The goal here, though, is to emphasize the inhuman nature of a culture of veritable immortals.
This gives us a good enough base to start with, though the geopolitical situation may in fact be a distant concern to our Adventurers. It does provide a lot of cultural “flavor” to draw from. And further afield? Is there an Africa with kingdoms like Egypt and Kush? A Russian princely state? A far East?
Yeah, probably, but let’s deal with what we’ve got here, first. We have more “Big Picture” questions to address first. Like what’s up with the gods. Like how magic works. Like where did that Common tongue everybody speaks come from. Like why are gold coins only worth ten times the value of silver. Like how did all the monks get to our European analog from wherever martial arts comes from. And is everywhere as ridiculously dangerous?
Yes. Yes it is.