Dark Eras: Part Five

We did it! This is the last one. I’ve covered everything up the year 1000 CE in the last posts (first the 20th century, the the 19th, then the next three hundred years, and then five hundred in one go). We’ve gotten back to the periods called “classical” or “ancient” depending on who you ask and we’re just going to sprint for the finish at this point! Get ready to go through the Roman Empire, the Greeks, the Egyptian kingdoms, and all the way to the Stone Age!

Of course, it’s all spoiled a little by the upcoming Dark Eras 2 (now on Kickstarter!) which will add a whole slew of new settings to the list. Still, more historical settings is inherently a good thing as far as I’m concerned so more power to them!

Return to Dusk

Time Period and Setting: Europe and North Africa in the 6th century (551 CE)
Game Line: Mummy: The Curse
Source: Sothis Ascends

Chronicles of Darkness - Mummy the Curse
Image from White Wolf Wiki, based on images © White Wolf Publishing.

The Good: This is the first time we’ve encountered the Sothis Ascends book for Mummy: the Curse, which should tell you something about the epic length of the Sothic Cycle and the extreme antiquity of the Egyptian dynasties: the most recent cycle (2012) is the fourth since the Arisen were created and we’ve had to go through four long posts of historical settings to even get to number three. The moral here is that mummies are ancient and eternal beings and they hate change even more so than vampire elders. So when they awake in the middle of the 6th century, those still in Europe and Africa must have had a shock to their core. The Western Roman Empire has fallen… not that any of them even saw it stand. The Arisen (unless they had an unscheduled Descent, such as during in The Fall of Isireion setting below) suddenly find themselves in a world dominated by one style of monotheism or another, with foreigners from the distant fjords and mountains dominating their cultists’ lands, and famine and war on the march. Also Christianity, which pushes some mummies to forsake the Judges and revere only Azar (awesome idea). We’re told that the Deathless call this period the Year of the Plague and it’s a wild ride.

In the former territories held by Rome there are several different powers contending for the attention of the Arisen. The Eastern Roman Empire is just a few years shy of its greatest territorial extent under Justinian the Great, bringing the tenets of their Christian faith throughout the Mediterranean. Meanwhile, the Sasanian Dynasty in Persia remains the eternal foe of the Roman world and the Persians’ Zoroastrian faith is much older than the Christian sect, though not Judaism (incidently, we’re about two decades from the birth of Muhammad). The Visigothic Kingdom, founded for revenge, occupies the Iberian Peninsula while the Merovingian Kingdom occupies Gaul and farther territories having expanded under Clovis who just died about forty years ago. Both of these peoples (Goth and Germanic) migrated over the last century and more because of pressure from the Huns who are still kicking around to the east, as are the Avars who will officially found their Khaganate in less than two decades. Add to that the Sao civilization in Central Africa, the Christian Nubian Kingdoms along the Upper Nile, and the recently-collapsed Gupta Empire and now-rising Maitraka Dynasty in India. And that’s just some of the lands described in this setting full of potential.

The Bad: This setting does include some mechanics, but not many. There are the Cleared Mind Slates, a text relic used by an ambitious heresy called the Revisionists, and some discussion of how to adjust the cult creation steps during the Dark Ages in the Islamic world. More relics would have been awesome and maybe some NPC stats (there are dozens of NPCs mentioned, just no stats) but this is all we get. Of course, there is additional material in the following chapter (a sweet Merit and an epic Utterance) but nothing specifically for this time period.

Three Kingdoms of Darkness

Time Period and Setting: Three Kingdoms Period of China (220-280 CE)
Game Lines: Geist: The Sin-Eaters and Changeling: The Lost
Source: Dark Eras

Chronicles of Darkness - Geist the Sin-Eaters
Image from White Wolf Wiki, based on images © White Wolf Publishing.

The Good: The states in China during the Three Kingdoms Period were neither kingdoms, nor were there three of them. Discuss. This is the chaotic period following the fall of the Han Dynasty (which set the standard for imperial dynasties) when three different successor states claimed authority over all of China (making them actually empires to their inhabitants) and didn’t particularly care for their “upstart” neighbors (invading each other with splinter states that result in more then three). This is a period romanticized in East Asian literature and media, including movies like Red Cliff and The Assassins. I’m not an expert in this stuff but I’ve seen a lot of people compare it to the Roman Civil War which should inspire you to take part in it.

Chronicles of Darkness - Changeling the Lost
Image from White Wolf Wiki, based on images © White Wolf Publishing.

The dual-setting chapter itself deals with the history of the period, complete with shout-outs on separating history from literary baggage, with good descriptions of day-to-day living in each of the three “kingdoms” for mortals and the supernatural. A major enemy and theme of the setting is the jiangshi, “not-quite-dead” men and women who shamble across the landscape to be cut down by changelings or Sin-Eaters, or both! The long-standing Courts of the Han Dynasty’s rule are shattered as freeholds war with each other to establish a new ruler deserving heaven’s grace to protect them from the Gentry. The dominant courts are directional courts, spelled out here and updated to the Chronicles of Darkness. Meanwhile, traveling guardians of the underworld (the Wuchang Gui as the Sin-Eaters are called) try to find and exorcise “hungry ghosts” that haunt the land. Both lines have new mechanics (including Mantles, Contracts, and momento mori) to make the characters truly fit into the setting.

The Bad: The only thing missing from this setting is crossover information. There are lots of new options for characters and cool hooks for both plots and enemies. There are so many ways for both changelings and Sin-Eaters to dive into and you can have great campaigns of either. Threats and situations abound that would attract the attention of both as well! But, as to what the Lost think of the Bound is not really covered and vice versa. This won’t affect a single game line chronicle, of course, and it also opens up the possibility for players and Storytellers to make up their own details. Just know that you will have to figure it out and, considering the distant time period and (for many players) culture, that might involve some research and deliberation.

Requiem for Rome

Time Period and Setting: Roman Republic and Empire (27  BCE  – 395  CE)
Game Line: Vampire: The Requiem
Source: Requiem for Rome and Fall of the Camarilla

Chronicles of Darkness - Vampire the Requiem
Image from White Wolf Wiki, based on images © White Wolf Publishing.

The Good: The granddaddy of all historical Chronicle of Darkness settings, Requiem for Rome came out in 2007 which makes it significantly older than many of the game lines for the new World of Darkness, let alone historical books. It also has more than 250 pages which makes it more than three times longer than other sourcebook-length settings like New Wave Requiem, Mage Noir, and Victorian Lost (all described in the first of these posts). On top of that, there is the extended campaign book Fall of the Camarilla, itself over 200 pages. So… yeah, there’s a lot of material here.

With all of that, it’s incredibly hard to sum up everything in this setting but let me try by saying that Requiem for Rome has it all. There is a brand new set of covenants, a new clan, new Disciplines, new NPCs… everything. It’s always been my guess that Requiem for Rome was intended to be a semi-standalone game like Dark Ages: Vampire but you do in fact need Vampire: the Requiem to play it. Here’s a quick recap of the situation: at the founding of Rome when Romulus killed his brother Remus, Remus cut a deal with death-spirits of owl-like strix that made him the first Roman vampire of a new clan called the Julii. In the nights of the Roman Republic and, later, Empire the Julii formed their own Senate (one of the covenants) in the catacombs beneath Rome that governs the native Julii as well as the northern Gangrel, Greek Daeva, Persian Mekhet, and Carpathian Nosferatu. They also have their own legion and priesthood of augurs as two more covenants for the setting, and the outsider covenants are the nascent Lancea Sancta and the Peregrine College. That’s the bare surface but all I really have time for here. Check out this page on the Camarilla (the vampires’ shadow society in Rome) for more info or just get the book because it’s awesome.

The Bad: Nothing. This is the gold platinum standard for historical settings so I have nothing bad to say about it. It’s written for the first edition of V:tR so you’ll have to update a few things but that’s true of the majority of the game line anyways so it’s probably on your to-do list to start.

Forsaken By Rome

Time Period and Setting: Magna Germania (Germany) in 9-12 CE
Game Line: Werewolf: The Forsaken
Source: Dark Eras Companion

Chronicles of Darkness - Werewolf the Forsaken
Image from White Wolf Wiki, based on images © White Wolf Publishing.

The Good: If you want to take a slight outsider’s view of the Roman world, Forsaken by Rome focuses on the Germanic peoples beyond the Republic’s borders and the Uratha among them. I really looked forward to this setting during the Kickstarter, more so than The Wolf and the Raven, since it’s so strongly suited to Werewolf but also a mix of new territory and familiar ground since it ties into Requiem for Rome above. The setting theme is “Adapt or Die” and that runs strongly through the whole thing. As the Germanic werewolves brace for the war with Rome’s legions, the werewolves within those legions find themselves pulled in multiple directions.

Yes, there are werewolves in Rome and their story is even better than the Germanic Uratha. They call themselves the Urdeshga and are made up of two large, per-Roman cultural groups. The Marisi are Iron Masters who trace their ancestry to Etruria and before that the Teresh sea raiders. The Saturi, if you can believe it, are Ivory Claws who lived among the Latin people before the founding of the City of Rome. In the famous origin story of Rome, Romulus and Remus were raised by the Uratha woman Acca Laurentia until their First Change when set out to found their own city. As they laid the foundations they turned on each other and Romulus killed Remus (leaving him to give rise to the Julii vampires of Requiem for Rome) and Romulus raided and cleansed to fulfill Hathis-Ur‘s vision of purity. Roman conquest and brutality came to a head with Tarquin the Proud when the Romans rejected kingship altogether. The Ivory Claws in Rome rejected the need to wipe out the Uratha on their borders as well and forged an alliance with the Marisi Farsil Luhal in the Council of Eagles and Lightning.

In the time of Forsaken by Rome, this alliance has been codified into a council of 24 (a dozen from the Marisi and a dozen from the Saturi) and other, non-Urdeshga from foreign tribes living in Roman territory are unrepresented, the foederati of the setting. The Hisil in Rome is also changed by a hungry spirit called the Magna Mater, a magath spirit that feeds on the emotions of Rome’s populace and controls the legions through their aquilae standards. When the Roman werewolves meet the German werewolves, then, it’s not just a clash of cultures but a clash of fundamental worldviews: is the spirit world to be respected and the Pure to be resisted or can you use a magath like a weapon and make deals with the enemy?

There is so much more here in terms of setting material and it should be clear that I’m really excited by it. I haven’t even touched the historical material for the German peoples or the dramatic events to sprinkle into your chronicle or the epic terrain your werewolves will be wandering through. As far as mechanics, there’s a Pure template updated for the Chronicles of Darkness, new weapons and armor for the era, maneuvers for legionary forces, sample characters, and even some new rites for the Roman world.

The Bad: Nothing. There is nothing bad about this setting. I was holding my breath and waiting for the shoe to drop but this is as sleek a setting as Requiem for Rome is, especially considering the page limitations.

The Fall of Isireion

Time Period and Setting: Egypt during Cleopatra’s Rule (69-30 BCE)
Game Line: Mummy: The Curse
Source: Dark Eras Companion

Chronicles of Darkness - Mummy the Curse
Image from White Wolf Wiki, based on images © White Wolf Publishing.

The Good: The subtitle for this setting is definitely “While You Were Sleeping, Stuff Hit the Fan.” This is in between Sothic Turns, the last one (The Might Despair described below) being during the Late Kingdom when things were decaying for the pharaohs but things could maybe turn around. In this era, not only have the Egyptian rulers and their Iremite legacy been replaced by Greek generals from Alexander’s invasion (check out To the Strongest below for more on that) but those Hellenistic usurpers are on the knife’s edge themselves and will likely fall to the increasingly dominating Rome (check out Forsaken by Rome and Requiem for Rome above). This is a confusing time for the Arisen where they are pulled between multiple forces and it’s an added bonus that you can easily make players feel pulled between multiple game lines at the same time.

The chapter outlines, briefly, the events that led up to Cleopatra’s birth in 69 BCE, then it provides a times of her youth, through the meddling by Rome, and then the horrible years of 32-30 BCE when Cleopatra, her lover Mark Antony, and the queen’s son Caesarion are all killed and independence in Egypt comes to a crashing end. During this time period mummies might easily find themselves in Egypt or Rome and both are outlined in some detail. There’s also a large section on prophecies, a big part of Mummy: The Curse and the mystery cults dominating this period including the Cult of Isis here in Egypt.

A half-dozen political factions in the area (mundane and supernatural) and information on the Arisen guilds should give you lots to work with as well as some new Arisen relics. My favorite part, though, is the updated sorcerer Merits (similar to what you would find in Second Sight) for ritual sorcerers and the example sorcerer cults that you can have under your undying thumb. I love this addition and it’s definitely a resource you can include in other settings as well! And then, there’s a bonus game of blood bathers and other immortals who try to follow in the footsteps of the Arisen in a hollow sham of the Iremite rites. So much here…

The Bad: This is a solid setting and the only thing that is missing for me here is, again, crossover information. To quote the “other games” sidebar in this chapter, “Naturally (or perhaps unnaturally), vampires are an obvious notion when one seeks to cross-pollinate the seeds of doom in the Isireion era.” Awesome! So… why don’t you tell us something about it? This sort of throw-away note is fine for most game lines but since there is an explicit Roman setting for vampires (and a huge on at that) it seems like the connection between The Fall of Isireion and Requiem for Rome is worth more than a three-sentence paragraph. This is even worse for Forsaken by Rome since werewolves are not mentioned at all. Such opportunity for inter-connected storytelling and yet… such a lack of connections. Ah well…

To the Strongest

Time Period and Setting: Alexander’s Empire (Greece to India) from 330-320 BCE
Game Line: Mage: The Awakening
Source: Dark Eras

Chronicles of Darkness - Mage the Awakening
Image from White Wolf Wiki, based on images © White Wolf Publishing.

The Good: Despite the impression you might have had from certain horrible movies, the conquest of Alexander the Great and his continent-spanning empire were amazing and dramatic events that you should want to run a game in. In the mythos of Mage: The Awakening, this is a time when multiple isolated populations of Awakened are coming into contact and their cultural interpretations of the Fallen World and the Supernal Realms. There is a lot of material in this setting, from coinage and imperial demographics to mechanics for era-appropriate technology including war elephants(!).

Awakened characters in To the Strongest adjust the base rules for Mages according to their cultural background. While the cultural adaptations are not as extensive as those in Princes of the Conquered Land with new mechanics for Paths and Orders, a lot of attention is given over in this chapter to making sure the flavor of different magical traditions are distinct. They might work the same mechanically but Mages from different parts of Alexander’s empire are each provided with pages and pages of information on how their particular corner of the world interprets the Arcana. Greek Mages have the most information, being the victors and thus the receivers of spoils, but there are Great Cults for Greeks, Indians, Zoroastrians, and Egyptians as well as short descriptions of “barbarian” practices. Oh yeah, and there’s some mention of Mummies among the Egyptian Mages so, bonus!

There’s a lot of info here and it’s easy to see how you could spin a chronicle out of it. There’s even some of the “doomed to know the future” feel that players familiar with the Sorcerers Crusade might remember when reading about the Order of Reason. In that previous setting, the players all know that the Order will become the Technocracy, shadowy Men in Black who try to destroy Mages, but the characters know that as just another band of magic-users trying to survive with everyone else. Similarly, the Greek cult of the Arcadian Mysteries is just one of a number of interpretations of the Fallen World but players will know that it will come to dominate and destroy this multifaceted, pluralistic Mage society in favor of the Pentacle Orders known to modern Mages. Whether this can be changed in your chronicle is up to you. There is a new Legacy too (the Nagaraja) and seven great page-and-a-half chronicle seeds that are all fantastic and all make me want to dive headfirst into this world.

The Bad: This is a broad setting that may have bit off more than it can chew. You can see that if it was given a full sourcebook like Requiem for Rome (see above) this could be just as extensive and wonderful and new. Reading through I frequently found sections that authors would clearly like to expand on and that I instantly wanted to write more material for. It’s not as full of obvious blanks as the Return to Dusk setting we started with and it actually covers things really well in the space it has. Best of all it includes a fantastic model for expanding on other ancient settings to put a new spin on the Atlantean model of magic. So, like a lot of settings in this series, my main problem is that there isn’t more of this fantastic work. Still an issue but not as bad as some you could have.

The Seven Spirits

Time Period and Setting: Neo-Babylonian Empire (625-539 BCE)
Game Line: Vampire: The Requiem
Source: Ancient Mysteries ( WW 25311) and Ancient Bloodlines (WW 25312)

Chronicles of Darkness - Vampire the Requiem
Image from White Wolf Wiki, based on images © White Wolf Publishing.

The Good: This is Vampire: The Requiem set in the “black streets” of Babylon, specifically during the Chaldean or Neo-Babylonian Empire. This is a hyper-focused setting concerned with really just one city, Babylon itself ruled by the En (equivalent to a Prince but with a godly spin to it). We’re told in this that Babylonia was ruled for “twelve thousand years” (I’m assuming that’s a typo…) by En Isiratuu who, intriguingly, had a terrible secret. With knowledge of demonic magics he brought great power to Babylon, but also damned his people to dark forces and attentions. There are two new bloodlines on offer: the Iltani are a Mekhet bloodline with poison magic, while the En are the leader’s own Daeva-based brood. Three semi-convenants are outlined as well (the Iggi who serve the En, the blood-sorcerers of the Coven of Nanaja who gave En Isisratuu his secrets, and the rebellious Voice of Shullat who resist the status quo) but no mechanics for these. There’s also a demonic threat, the Edimmu, who stalk the Kindred of Babylon.

The Bad: The biggest thing that this setting is the same as other eras in Ancient Mysteries. The fact is that these weren’t really created as settings to run chronicles in, just as options to tie into your modern campaign. As a result, there are few details on the structure of Babylon itself, the relationship between Babylon and other cities, and even whether other cities in the Neo-Babylonian Empire have Ens leading them. You’d need to flesh this out a lot which gives you tons of flexibility for your campaign but also a lot of homework.

 

The Mighty Despair

Time Period and Setting: Late Period Egypt (910 BCE)
Game Line: Mummy: The Curse
Source: Sothis Ascends

Chronicles of Darkness - Mummy the Curse
Image from White Wolf Wiki, based on images © White Wolf Publishing.

The Good: We’re definitely getting back into the hazy centuries of the distant past when more is unknown than is agreed upon by experts. As the authors of Sothis Ascends state, that just “means that you have freedom to take what is known and extrapolate your own ‘facts’ from it.” Several different “out-there” ideas are given from Egyptian trade routes to the Americas (not as crazy as it seems) and Egyptian colonies in Scandinavia. The guilds are all described in some details and groups of antagonists from a cult of astronomers messing with what they shouldn’t, the omnipresent Deceived, and zealous hunters in Judah looking for idols to dust. There are also several chronicle frameworks to get you started in this rich setting.

During this era, the last centuries of native dynastic rule until the fall of Rome, things are clearly falling apart to the Arisen that wake in their tombs and view the pale shadow that their land has become. To the Egyptians themselves, they might think this is just one more storm their long-lived kingdom is weathering but there are enough enemies beating on their doors that they surely see something is up. Immediately to the east, Israel was recently conquered by the pharaoh Shoshenq I but it’s come back as two divided kingdoms, each ready to prove themselves. North of that is the kingdom of the Canaanites, later called Phoenicia, which commands impressive economic influence and naval power. Further north and east the Neo-Assyrian Empire is coming into its own and rapidly expanding to the delight of some Arisen and the anger of others. The re-established kingdom of Babylon is recovering from years of anarchy after its feverish heydays (and before its true resurgence in The Seven Spirits above) and is a major rival to Egypt once again (see Hunting Grounds: Sumer below) though under the thumb of the Assyrians. Lastly, Hellas is on the rise, although the puny city-states of the age, beset on all sides by enemies, are sure to snuff out in just a few years… Right? Other areas like the British Isles, Italy, Crete, and the far north are described somewhat as well giving a wide range of options.

The Bad: This might be a whirlwind of information that you will need to sift through, but like an archaeological dig (see what I did there?) the sifting is well worth it. This is a tumultuous period that touches on a number of different, familiar areas and stories. It’s an awesome option for an historical campaign and if you have the time and patience for the prep work I think it’s well worth it.

Rise of the Covenants

Time Period and Setting: (circa 1279 BCE)
Game Line: Vampire: The Requiem
Source: Ancient Mysteries ( WW 25311) and Ancient Bloodlines (WW 25312)

Chronicles of Darkness - Vampire the Requiem
Image from White Wolf Wiki, based on images © White Wolf Publishing.

The Good: Egyptian culture and history has come up frequently in these posts, but usually in reference to Mummy: The Curse. This time it comes from an era that was written before Mummy and presents ancient Egypt as the source of the vampiric covenants. In the chaos following the religious edicts of Akhenaten, a Kindred priest of Ra felt that the time might be right for vampires to attempt a more direct influence on mortals. Specifically, the vampires maneuvered Ramses II, Ramses the Great, into power and made him a ghoul. As the gods returned to power in Egypt, so too did the vampires, all except for the Ventrue (who are an anachronism anyways). There are two bloodlines detailed, in addition to the Anubi from the Gangrel entry in Vampire: The Requiem First Edition. The Bak-Ra are a Mekhet bloodline that is able to circumvent the curse of sunlight with some (probably over-powered) Devotions while the Usiri are a Nosferatu bloodline that have influence over the subconscious thanks to their ties to Osiris. Both are solid and have some great potential in modern chronicles as well.

The Bad: Ugh, so close to something great here. There are several problems with this era, though. First, and this is not the fault of the authors, what was a perfectly well-written book has been overtaken by subsequent publications. Requiem for Rome (above) details the early clans so the inclusion of the Ventrue doesn’t mesh with the mythos at all anymore. The Roman setting as well as others like The Soulless and the Dead also establish the medieval origins of the Invictus so they are out of place as well.

Other problems could have been fixed from the beginning, but again we’re running into the issue of Ancient Mysteries as being a source for history influencing modern chronicles rather than running games in historical settings. Many different groups are hinted at here but not fully outlined (including, frustratingly, the Anubi which have been almost insultingly left behind from the start of VtR). Still, if you have a setting about the start of the covenants you should maybe, I don’t know, say something about what those covenants were like. Even a few names and details would be great; I don’t consider “the cult of Osiris” anything useful as all since a fifth grader with access to Wikipedia could do the same. This reads like the first notes of something great but is definitely a “fixer-upper.”

Giants in the Earth

Time Period and Setting: Biblical Israel (around 2000 BCE)
Game Line: Demon: The Descent
Source:
 Demon Storyteller’s Guide

Chronicles of Darkness - Demon the Descent
Image from White Wolf Wiki, based on images © White Wolf Publishing.

The Good: In the beginning there was thought, and the God-Machine said “let there be thought police.” And the God-Machine saw that these thought police were good… You get the idea. This is a setting shard from the Storyteller’s Guide from Demon: The Descent but, unlike the other shards in that book, it’s meant to be in the same continuity as the rest of the game. It’s a reimagining of the Old Testament story with the mythos of this game line, including Eden as a massive city full of infrastructure that was built by angels eager to help the God-Machine but who Fell for their efforts. In the aftermath of this the newly-Unchained struggled to find their purpose among the humans of this new Earth and this is how they find themselves in the lands of Israel during the early Bronze Age. Note, though, that this is a rough estimate since this setting is anchored firmly in the legendary narrative of the Book of Genesis rather than the archaeological record.

Regardless, this setting is similar to the Cannibal Hymn (see below) in that it turns everything up to 11 for Demon. Story seeds (including one concerning Lost Irem!!!) and details about what infrastructure might look like in all of this but the real gem is the information on the nephelim. Human/demon hybrids are detailed in the sourcebook Heirs to Hell but the authors point out that this is a modern treatment and so the nephelim of this period are a bit different… by which I mean more powerful and less goth-with-an-Embed. They get more Embeds, their own Ciphers, and strong connections to rings of Demons. They actually seem workable alongside full Demons which means you can have both Fallen Angels in the nascent cities of the Bronze Age Levant and semi-divine heroes fighting for their people’s freedom. Sweet.

The Bad: Again, this is a setting of legend and not of history. If you want to know where this comes in the political structure of the times, Giants In the Earth, like the Book of Genesis, is a little thin. You can certainly connect it to other Bronze Age cultures of the Near East, which brings in all the Near East stories from other game lines, but you don’t have any help from the chapter here. They even skip over it for Irem, which seems like a missed opportunity. Anyways, the other issue is that the City of this setting is just that: an urban area, the first of its kind, somewhere in what will become Israel. Even in the mythic generalizations of the theme there aren’t descriptions of what different areas of the setting are, what landmarks may be nearby, or even what major bits of infrastructure you could find. So, be prepared to make all of that up as a group.

The Cannibal Hymn

Time Period and Setting: Old Kingdom Egypt (2371 BCE)
Game Line: Mummy: The Curse
Source: Sothis Ascends

Chronicles of Darkness - Mummy the Curse
Image from White Wolf Wiki, based on images © White Wolf Publishing.

The Good: This era is named for a carving in the tomb of the early pharaoh Unas that might seem like part of the supernatural aspects of Chronicles of Darkness: a series of religious utterances about war and slaughter. This is a legit academic subject, though, which should tell you just how steeped in thematics this setting is. First off, it’s set in the 24th century BCE (making it about 4,350 years before the present day) and it’s still more than fourteen hundred years after Irem. I’ve set it before but Mummy works on some impressive scales, you guys. This is the mummy equivalent of the Dark Ages for vampires or the Viking Age for werewolves: a time when everything seems aimed at making your characters feel like gods. The only difference here is that you actually are gods.

Not everything is slave and natron, though. (Those are two things mummies love… nevermind). This is the first time the Arisen have returned en masse since the Rite of Ascension and they surely find some shocking changes. First of all, Irem is completely forgotten except in vague legends. So much for eternal power. Also, there are these things called Shuankhsen that are… well, you’ll see my poor Deathless friend. Most importantly, though, the characters in this setting start out with nothing that they will build over subsequent Descents: no Utterances, no guild membership, no cults, and Memory 1. This is rough and you don’t have to go “hard mode” but I personally love it as it puts the focus on the really fun part. You wake up and stumble out to a group of humans, then reveal your aura as their literal god. Sign me up!

The Bad: This setting escapes some of the vague and frustrating settings in the ancient world by limiting its focus. There’s information on Mesopotamia, Anatolia, Syria, and Canaan, but the focus is firmly Egypt along the Nile. This means it can detail major cities of ancient Egypt in half-page bites, guides to the time-appropriate terminology for things like the Mediterranean and Sinai, Egyptian culture of the period, and what the Arisen can expect when they wake. This means you hardly have any research to do for Egypt but if you want a globe-trotting campaign you’ll have lots of work ahead of you. This means “The Bad” for Cannibal Hymn depends on where you want to be playing. If you like staying it Egypt then this part should read “Nothing.” If you want to go elsewhere than it reads “A ton of research.”

Hunting Grounds: Sumer

Time Period and Setting: City-State of Sumer in Mesopotamia (circa 4000 BCE)
Game Line: Werewolf: The Forsaken
Source: Forsaken Chroniclers Guide

Chronicles of Darkness - Werewolf the Forsaken
Image from White Wolf Wiki, based on images © White Wolf Publishing.

The Good: This sub-chapter in the Chronicler’s Guide for Werewolf: The Forsaken First Edition is written by the fantastic Chuck Wendig and is a great take on the setting as well as how to bridge the ancient and the modern in a chronicle. Like The Seven Spirits discussed above, this Mesopotamian setting focuses on spirits and demons as it ramps everything up to 11. In the ancient past of Sumerian city-states, the Uratha ruled openly as kings (the Ur-Sag) with absolute control over the (ahistorical) city-state of Bau. Where spirits lived openly as well and everything seems to have really sucked. The back-and-forth campaign skeleton outlined in the chapter has modern werewolves building the arcane ziggurats of the past and slowly realizing the problems with living openly, but there’s enough information here to run a chronicle entirely in the past. There’s even a new werewolf template that makes suped-up Dog-Kings for your players to tear the world apart with.

The best part of all of this comes, actually, from Mummy: The Curse. In the corebook for that game line, the Nameless Empire of Irem is said to have fought for a long time against the powerful sorcerers known as the Ki-En-Gir who provided their first real challenge in the Iremites’ expansion. Since Hunting Grounds: Sumer is as close to non-corebook canon as the Chronicles of Darkness is willing to go, this means that the origins of the Arisen and the origins of the Uratha are inextricably linked. This makes me very happy.

The Bad: I stand by the statement there is “enough” here to run a Sumerian chronicle in Werewolf, but you have to be pretty creative. Firstly, you’ll need to research Sumerian culture and geography if you want to be super accurate, but since the city-state of Bau isn’t a real site you can also just make up that area. Secondly, you can use the tribes and auspices of Werewolf unchanged if you want, or you can put a little more effort in and create some new Gifts and maybe new factions or even lodges that represent a slightly different take. Lastly, if you want to move outside of the immediate region of the City-State of Bau you really need more information to know what might be out there. There’s information in other historical settings to pull from but how much you “need” to do depends on your wants for the setting.

The Sundered World

Time Period and Setting: The Dawn of Civilizations (5500-5000 BCE)
Game Lines: Werewolf: The Forsaken and Mage: The Awakening
Source: Dark Eras

Chronicles of Darkness - Werewolf the Forsaken
Image from White Wolf Wiki, based on images © White Wolf Publishing.

The Good: This is the oldest setting published (and likely the oldest ever published since it’s some of the earliest signs of human occupation in the world) and it’s best described as before. The era is before the Orders of the Pentacle are founded, before anything like modern cities show up on the scene, before the Gauntlet is up in force… Hell, it’s before Urfarah is killed. Set somewhere in the Balkans and focused on the Vinča Culture, it combines equal parts archeology, speculation, and mythos-building to make something really interesting.

Chronicles of Darkness - Mage the Awakening
Image from White Wolf Wiki, based on images © White Wolf Publishing.

As a dual setting, there’s a lot of ground for The Sundered World to cover, even before you get into the unique threats of a Neolithic setting, and the chapter makes a real effort to cover everything. The Wise, as mages are known, are presented as the sages and priests of villages. They have Paths, though these are modified to better fit the setting, and no Order (so no Order benefits) and immense authority in society. I don’t just mean mage society too since there is no difference between that and Sleeper society in this era. There is no concept of the Watchtowers, few reliable sources of Mana, but god-like power for those who can survive long enough to find it.

For the Uratha, that god-like power doesn’t need to be sought, only controlled. The Firstborn still roam the land and the Uratha hunt animals, spirits, Claimed creatures, and more as is their birthright. They are still affected by silver (this is an interesting “reveal” that I’ll let you explore on your own) and there are Pangaeans around besides Urfarah running around but silver is pretty rare before metalworking and the god-spirits are vulnerable to all werewolves’ teeth and claws so they still have a bit of an upper hand. Life is good for the Uratha, even if they have to live in the woods instead of these new-fangled villages. There are no tribes (since the Sundering hasn’t happened yet) but there are sects and cults among the Uratha that argue about their place in the world.

The Bad: I wish there was more in this setting… for all game lines, but I’ll focus on Mage and Werewolf. There are three awesome Legacies described for the Wise but they get a paragraph each and no mechanics. Four different chronicle seeds will give you a lot to work with but nothing along the lines of a map or regional landmarks. Still, these are small complaints for a jam-packed setting chapter.

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4 thoughts on “Dark Eras: Part Five

  1. Heya, I’m one of the writers from Forsaken by Rome and I just want to say thanks for the kind words. I’m really glad you liked it!

    Also: we seem to have the same tastes, because I agree with your take on pretty much *all* the Eras above. Now to go and trawl through your other posts, too! 😉

    Like

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