Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Highs and Lows

I've never really been into high-fantasy settings, with flashy oversized swords, crazy-angled-pointy armour and insane pyrotechnics for magic. I've always been more of a down-and-dirty, quasi-historical setting kind of guy, with design and looks based in our own culture. I mentioned in my last blog that I was interested in doing a MERP game in a fantasy England and that's still my goal. Get some players interested in diving deep into an RPG together and fleshing out a game.

I've been looking at Dark Age Britain recently, especially the period around Alfred the Great (a time wonderfully depicted in Bernard Cornwell's books, which I'm reading at the moment and can't recommend enough) and what interests me is the idea of a decaying Roman settlement and the mysteries that collapsed villas, temples and towns might have in store for people wanting what the Romans left behind. Bloody Romans.

Take that one step further and make it a fantasy game and instead of a few columns and a collapsed roof all covered in weeds, you've got huge castles dedicated to Jupiter. A great statue of a Roman General spans the River Severn, one foot on each bank, gladius raised high overhead and scutum lowered as if protecting the land from invaders travelling the river, so you have to sail between his legs as you travel inland. There's another one of the Emperor across the Thames estuary, with his hand extended in friendship, his blank soulless eyes staring down at the water so that at some point he will be staring at you accusingly. In all this grandiose larger-than-life game you'll have the basic Dark Age trappings, with Picts, Norsemen, Saxons, Danes and Britons all fighting for dominance, and in the background a supersized version of a collapsed Roman occupation. Warriors might be using old Roman weapons and armour, their own or something cooked up by the local druid who resents outsiders after his kind were massacred by the Romans.

I think it'd make a great setting, one that's instantly recognisable from history (giving it depth and believability) and yet have an air of mystery and legend about it.

And, what's better, no pointy-flashing-crazy-angled armoured anime characters with huge weapons.

PS: Rob Lang has made it known to the world how much he disagrees with the Ennie nominations for Best Free RPG, considering that three of the five nominees are nothing more than quick-start rules for a commercial product. Read the details here. I'm supporting this opinion as free games should be just that - free - and not simple cut-down versions of a larger item you have to pay for.


  1. Thanks for the support, Jon!

    On your main topic, I've never really been interested in High Fantasy either. That's why I went Sci Fi. I am more tempted by historical fantasy - I really enjoyed a game of Pendragon years ago. However, it was made all the more alive because the GM was doing a degree in British History! I think your Roman game would make a superb setting.

    You write it and lay it out free and I'll review it. :)

  2. Luckily for me one of my passions is Roman History (I once wrote a novel about a one-armed Soldier of Rome) so I have plenty of knowledge of half my subject matter! I've found a great website at www.earlybritishkingdoms.com that fills in all the hostorical gaps, and the rest I'll just make up. It'll be an alternative reality kind of thing. At the moment I'm looking at it as a series of stories, but an RPG would work wonders if I give it that Dragon Warriors feel.