Way back in 2017 (before Baby Grue or Continuing Mission) I went systematically through all the historical settings for the Chronicles of Darkness. It was a fun project and I enjoyed the completeness of it but now they went ahead and added more! Last month, Dark Eras 2 was made available to the public on Drive Thru RPG so it’s time once more to head into the fray of history.
Today we’re looking at the three earliest settings, from the Middle Kingdom of Egypt to Britain at the fall of the Roman Empire. It’s more than two thousand years (!) of history and we get merely five quick snapshots so things might not be as complete as we’d like. With that in mind, though, let’s dive right in!
Hunger In the Black Land
Time Period: Middle Kingdom Egypt, 1806 BCE
Game Lines: Promethean: The Created, Beast: The Primordial, and Werewolf: The Forsaken
Available: In Dark Eras 2 and by itself here.
See Also: Giants In the Earth and Rise of the Covenants (both described here)
The Good: This setting has all the stuff I really love in these combined settings. The particular setting is at the start of the reign of Sobekneferu, the first confirmed female pharaoh of Egypt who had a short reign and not much information that I’ve found. In the story of this setting, though, she has inherited a faltering kingdom from her grandfather’s successor. Amenemhat III had a peaceful rule in the archaeological record and built some temples to Sobek and the cobra-goddess Renenutet at Medinet Madi, as well as picking Amenemhat IV as his successor instead of his daughter. In the dark world of the Chronicles of Darkness, this is all recast as the rise of a cannibalistic crocodile-cult to an undead Pangaean killed in the time before humanity rose. Hoo-boy!
The crocodile-god killed by Father Wolf is at the center of this setting which is a pretty deep dive into Werewolf: The Forsaken lore. It keeps going from there too with the sheut (shadow-soul) of Death Wolf physically present in the land and worshiped as Wepwawet. Obviously this puts the Bone Shadows (and there’s a Lodge in The Pack called the Fangs of Wepwawet that gets a shout-out) but there are plenty of roles for the other tribes to play in the fight against Sobek. The Pure Tribes are also woven deeply into the story with the Pure being pushed out at the beginning of this 12th dynasty and now they’re eager to return as the dynasty falters and fails. Will they become reluctant allies against the Sobek or another enemy? Speaking of Sobek, by the way, the Sobeki (or saharusum) are no joke, werecrocodiles created in rituals that involve devouring the flesh of another human while they’re still alive…
The Osirans and Tammuz are obviously the main Prometheans but there are other fun things here too: a pre-Galateid Lineage from Carthage, new rules to show the changing world of Kemet with Crododile’s influence (rules for both Prometheans and Pandorans), and three new groups of alchemists (a new sort of antagonist introduced in the game’s second edition). The Beasts have less new crunch but they are maybe the coolest part of this three-gameline setting. Because Beasts are driven by the supernatural ties in their surroundings and because the dying spirit of a crocodile god is a damn big influence, the Beasts of this time are struggling not to become the insane, ravening monsters their land is trying to make them into. Excited?
The Bad: One thing that always comes up with settings like this is vocabulary. What’s a haty-a and what do they do? Where is Atef-Pehu and is it a political designation or just an area? How is A’aru different from ma’at? Where is Shedet? All of this is described in beautiful detail in the chapter, but I wanted a lexicon longer than eight terms and (for the love of Sobek) a map of Upper Egypt if not the specific nome this focuses on. It makes it pretty daunting to dive into this setting. I love the idea of jumping into this setting but I’m a little stumped about how to get players up to speed, let alone pitching this idea for another Storyteller.
The other thing that disappointed me in this chapter is (really unexpectedly) the lack of Mummy connections. Obviously, with a setting that incorporates werewolves, Beasts, and Prometheans explicitly, fitting in a long section on the Arisen is too much to ask. There’s also lots of Ancient Egypt information on what the Deathless are up to but that category is so huge that they’re typically centuries out of date. So what I expected was little EasterEggs, small tidbits that those familiar with Mummy could pick up on considering the shared mythology. I didn’t see any of that. There are big questions too like how does the Crocodile relates to the Judges of Irem? The cult of Sobek is in the forefront of the setting, so do they have any beef with Scorpion Cults? The Bone Shadows worship Anpu as one of the aspects of Death Wolf, but is it the same Anpu? The mummies are mentioned just a few times in this chapter and there isn’t much substance there to even guess at how the mythos of Irem fits into all this.
The Seven Wonders
Time Period: The Eastern Mediterranean after Alexander the Great, 286-226 BCE
Game Lines: Changeling: The Lost and Promethean: The Created
Available: In Dark Eras 2 and by itself here.
See Also: To the Strongest described here.
The Good: I love the strong context here: you’re in the shadow of Alexander’s conquests and the campaign is focused on the Seven Wonders of the ancient world. Part of my criticism above was that it would be hard to get a group quickly up to speed on a campaign in Egypt’s Middle Kingdom but can be set up in just that sentence. Of course, things get crazier from there and the supernatural connection here is based around something called the Web of Seven, a mystical connection between all seven constructs that (understandably) draws Prometheans like crazy. It’s also the anchor for the Bargain of Khufu (named for the Great Pyramid of Khufu that started it) which was forged with a mysterious being called the Lady of Life Beyond Death (a Promethean genitor? one of the Arisen of Irem? who knows). With this amazing Bargain, the Huntsmen of the Gentry can only enter the mortal realm for a five-day period in the whole year.
With so many Prometheans gathering in these places, Disquiet is a natural consequence and that sort of madness attracts all sorts of fey things. Prometheans can also sense fetches thanks to their Azothic flame and changelings can offer them guidance through the Hedge to help their Pilgrimages. It’s a ready partnership, but the interaction between the Divine Flame and Glamour is explored at length and there are tons of other fun items including tidbits about the Hedge around each Wonder and a city populated entirely by Prometheans in the deserts of Mesopotamia. Best of all, this strange Bargain has made fetches more real and they can attempt Pilgrimages to turn into true beings just like the Created. Hoo boy. To that end, an Entitlement called the Dream Builders are trying to use dream shards from the Hedge to become genitors of new Created. Good luck with that, crazies!
The Bad: This chapter is Dark Eras at its finest. The focus is narrow enough to spark the imagination and encourage you to dive right in, but it’s wide enough to allow for all sorts of different stories. The only real criticism I have is layout… This chapter is set up like others with all the real world information and then everything on one gameline (Promethean) followed by everything for another (Changeling). It starts off talking about the Bargain and the Web of Seven but it took me forever to find out what those central elements even are! I think a little more information about events in the intro and then an overall section before the gameline stuff would really transform this into something truly marvelous.
Time Period: The British Islands, 400 – 500 CE
Game Lines: Hunter: The Vigil, Changeling: The Lost, and Vampire: The Requiem
Available: In Dark Eras 2 or by itself here.
See Also: Though it takes place two to three centuries later, The Wolf and the Raven is another look at the Dark Ages in northern Europe. You can find a description here.
The Good: Again, this setting benefits from having a pretty narrow focus. It covers a century of time in Britain but it’s all focused on Arthur Pendragon‘s rule at the end of the fifth century. The story of the Roman retreat from Britain, the invasion of foreigners including the Saxons into this vacuum, and the rise of Arthur’s uncle and father are all discussed through many decades of history but it really is a lead-up to freakin’ King Arthur so it’s pretty digestible. In the World of Darkness, this time of chaos and invasion also sees invasions from all sorts of different creatures and so the Hunters enter the story with two new compacts (in my estimation of power level). The Order of the Black Knight (no doubt inspired by the character in Le Morte d’Arthur) is a native British knighthood with powerful chivalric items to use against monsters. The Saxons come with the Hands of Týr and have a special seax to gring with werewolves over the story of their patron god Týr dying in the jaws of the wolf Fenrir.
On the non-mortal side of things, changelings have an impressive number of opportunities but also an alarming number of dangers to contend with. Though being kidnapped by the Gentry and replaced with a fetch is always horrific, they at least believed in the Others beforehand and return to a Britain covered in useful Hedgeways and with powerful freeholds like Avalon. Vampires also have a good news, bad news situation as the Romano-British vampires keenly feel the loss of the Camarilla’s influence, and the vampires outside of Britain (including the Welsh covenant Weihan Cynn from Requiem for Regina) see the chance to finally take their place. The result is the Legion of Green, a new covenant that contends with the Lancea et Sanctum and the Circles of Mor who follow the Morrígan. The courts of both vampires and Lost are bound by agreements that form strict territories for the Courts of Night and Day, sealed by pact magics and upheld yearly on Avalon to keep their hold on Britain. This situation is sealed (pun intended) by an oath-centric new Ventrue bloodline from Wales called the Bron, “Hedge-Knights” who have remarkable healing powers like D&D paladins’ lay on hands.
The Bad: I will admit that I don’t fully appreciate Hunter: The Vigil since I like my World of Darkness storylines thoroughly mixed, but it really seems like they get the short end of the hand-axe here. The changelings and vampires have this pact to work somewhat together, but also threats internal and external to deal with. You can have a party of all one type regularly dealing with the other, just dealing with your own stuff, or coming into conflict with their counterparts on the other side of the truce when shady dealing comes to light. Plus you can do all of that with mixed changeling/vampire groups! The narrative for these gamelines is punchy and brimming with plot hooks for your chronicle to get off the ground.
While I really like what’s written for the hunters, they get just two groups and not only will those two groups never work with the other factions mentioned in the chapter but they don’t even like each other! It would be dumb, of course, to have Arthurian hunters inexplicably comfortable with the supernatural or even to have Britons and Saxons overcome their blood feud because of more stress on the situation. I get that, and I get that the prompt was to have a setting that included hunters alongside other gamelines so you couldn’t write tons on hunters and short-change the other two (not that I would be willing to skimp on any of the changeling or vampire material). In the end, though, I think you’re left with not enough material to run a fully-realized hunter chronicle in Arthur’s Britain and no real way to have a hunter chronicle crossover with the rest of the chapter. I guess these guys are just here for antagonists, then, which is unsatisfying.