Biblyon the Great

This zine is dedicated to articles about the fantasy role-playing game Gods & Monsters, and other random musings.

Gods & Monsters Fantasy Role-Playing

Beyond here lie dragons

Building on History

Jerry Stratton, July 7, 2004

Many fantasy campaigns are built on a generic medieval or dark ages template. If you consciously build on such a world, you can add a level of verisimilitude that approaches even Tolkien, who clearly did the same thing for his Middle-Earth.

Let’s break down the dark ages:

  • A great empire that ruled the known world has crumbled.
  • Nations that once existed on the fringes of the known world have moved in, and perhaps even contributed to the great nation’s fall.
  • People rebuild amidst the ruins of this great empire.
  • Remnants of the empire’s political and legal system remain. Nobles trace their ancestry back to the empire. For centuries, kings trace themselves back to the kings of this empire.
  • Some physical trappings of the empire also remain: coins, jewelry, paintings, buildings.
  • One great city of the old empire remains, trying to rebuild the empire, and also reminding the fledgling nations of the glory of the dead empire.
  • On one side of the world, civilization grows at a greater pace than the other, with different religions and cultures. One of the few buffers between the two “sides of the world” is that one great city. If, or when, it falls, what will happen to the bickering nations on the other side?
  • As exotic as the lands conquered by the empire were, beyond one border lies a land, or lands, even more exotic. Filled with jungles, elephants, strange gods and mystics. Beyond even that are only rumors: rumors of an empire with a castle of jade, who are masters of a fine thread of unearthly beauty and strength.

The fall of this empire can happen quite quickly. In retrospect, it might have been a long time in coming, but in-game the final contraction, as the empire recalls all of its armies to the center of the empire to protect the main city, can happen in only a few years or less. This itself could be a great game, as the player characters are left behind when the armies that once protected them from the creatures of the dark are recalled to protect “Rome”.

Or, it could have been decades or centuries since the fall. Whatever you need.

You don’t need to use the same names: make up your own fantasy names for the Romans, the Celts, the Persians, and the Chinese. Change them around. Put a culture based on the Celts on the other side of the Persians, who are really based vaguely on the American Indians. The name “Caesar” that survived our time as “Kaiser” and “Czar” could be something else as well, with many variations all pointing back to the original dead empire.

The Lost Empire of Barcelas

For over three thousand years the Barcelasian Empire ruled the known world. Starting from the small town of Barcelas on the shores of Celara, the bipedal lizard-like Barcelasians expanded to conquer or ally with first their near neighbors, then their less-near neighbors, until the Barcelasian Empire covered parts of three continents and several large islands off the coasts of those continents. Until Barcelasian Year 2285, the Empire was a republic of nearly free client states. The only requirements of Barcelas was that each client state provide troops for the armed forces, and that each client state grant Barcelasian citizens a franchise in electing local officials.

The backbone of the Barcelasian Empire were their citizen-soldiers, first composed only of true Barcelas, and later of all races under Barcelasian rule. They were well-trained, ruthless in battle, obedient in war, and learned in peace.

In their early years, the chief Barcelasian rival was the great spider-race of Carathax on the opposite shore of the Celara. Several wars were fought between Barcelas and Carathax before Carathax was finally razed to the ground and forcibly depopulated. Many were taken into slavery. Others fled into the Rathac mountains where they skulk in cavern and shadow to this day.

In BY 2285, a civil war began that ended in military rule. Military rule grew to emperor rule. The Prelins, or supreme rulers, of Barcelas were seen as holding divine power.

Towards the end of the second millenia, the edges of the empire began to see Usilar, pale bipedal creatures (humans) from the north, who began to chip away at Barcelasian conquest. At first they were mere gnats on the Barcelasian elephant. But as the military state grew more autocratic, as civil wars inside grew more bloody, the borders began to grow weaker. Finally, in BY3065, after their own lands were invaded by wolf-riding Saulabar (goblins) to the north, a massive wave of Usilar invasions caused Markesh Prelin to recall all Barcelasian troops back to Barcelas. Even this was not enough: Barcelas was sacked, its power destroyed and an Usilar Prelin placed on the Aquali Throne.

But this emperor barely ruled Barcelas itself, let alone the rest of the empire. Cites, long walled, became states of their own. Some banded together. Many fell empty. More and more Usilar moved in and created their own villages, towns, and cities. The cities of Barcelas fell into ruin.

Fell into ruin except in one city, in the mountain pass between west and east, the city-state of Hamokera, recently converted to the worship of Na-el, grew in power in that small region of the world. Hamokera rarely knows peace: with the Usilar to their west and the growing Fictates of Elelba on their east, this mountain empire had to continually defend itself. But it was well situated, and defend itself it has, to this day.

Na-el is a minor deity from a once minor religion in the Elelban desert. Once a simple, communal sect of an already small religion, over its centuries in Hamokera it has been caught up in Hamokeran factionalism and political maneuvering. It now more closely resembles Hamokeran culture than its Elelban roots.

Beyond even Elelba is rumored the great kingdom of Venethtlas, home of the ruddy, tall Elves who are known only for the Elvencord (Venetia) that comes to Hamokera through Elelba. Their Barcelas-given name, prosaic as all things Barcelasian, means simply “land of cord”.

Beyond Venethtlas? Many legends give many answers. Another great sea? Impassable mountains that touch the very heavens themselves? A sky kingdom, its towers wreathed in clouds? If anyone knows, they have never returned.

Any Time

The basic idea that is the fall of Rome and the succeeding dark ages is implicitly part of most gaming worlds I’ve been a part of. Making it explicit, with different names and more fantastic origins, makes for a richer world.

You can do the same with any time period that interests you: break the salient parts of the time period’s political, social, and cultural make up into bullet points, then build it back up into a unique yet compelling game world.

  1. <- Secret Statistics
  2. Populating England ->