I recently played in a game using the new D&D 5e rules and was pleasantly surprised. Being a 1st ed. boy I felt stung rather badly by the enthusiasm of 3e when I discovered you pretty much needed a computer program to create the character. It was too much work, and the succeeding editions just got worse. When my friend Alan told me that 4e was a shocker, I felt nothing but relief that I’d dodged a bullet.
But then 5e came along and with it the free previews and core rules. Simon decided to run a game using the new boxed set and I was astounded to discover that the simplifications and consolidations had really produced a far more playable game that reminded me of the free-wheeling fun I used to have. And so consequently I find myself imagining running games as well.
My other interests at the moment are set in a 10th century Mediterranean/Middle East utilising ideas from the old AD&D setting Al Qadim laid over the new Osprey, Frostgrave. That was where I thought I’d set this new D&D setting as well.
I started to consider a Middle Sea, a Byzantine post Roman Empire, and ancient and forbidding Egypt, a link to the far East, and with these ideas selected module N1: Against the Cult of the Reptile God as a first adventure to test the water. Much rewriting will need to be done as the town is conceived as a typical American (Western) town with a division of labour with ‘other people’ making food (farms) and a middle class that owns shops. My experience with real villages is that everyone grows food in their garden, with most people having some kind of specialisation as well. Every so often they have a market day where they get together to trade their carrots for nails. And this is an example of the changes I need to make. There ain’t no supermarkets either in the past or in my fantasy economy.
Here is the map that I printed out in four parts and have started to colourise. I will add annotations in time as well, simulating the comments of the Imperial Censor, perhaps written 20 years previously.
Imagine my surprise as I searched for inspiration for this fantasy world when I discovered a fully fleshed version of exactly what I had in mind. Parsantium is focussed around the city of the same name, occupying a place in the geography and history of the fantasy setting analogous to Constantinople of the Byzantine Empire. Weighing in at 178 pages for a mere USD$11.99 it is an absolute steal. Fantasy China and India are hinted at to the east. Decayed and terrible necropolis Egypt to the South and in the deep South West we find a Caliphate-like monotheistic state that screams Arabian Nights. All of this and much more is clustered around a Middle Sea.
It makes me think of City State of the Invincible Overlord though that just may be convergent evolution rather than any conscious development. In any case I had the same feeling when I read both: a wonder at the richness of life on the mean fantasy streets.
This period and geography is completely unrepresented in fantasy gaming – and often in English literature as well except in the context of the Crusades. I’m excited by Parsantium, just as I’m excited by 5e.