Dark Eras 2: Part 2

I’m back today with another batch of historical settings for the Chronicles of Darkness. Expanding on the other Dark Eras of the game, I started last time to look at the new settings for the Dark Eras 2 book. We are making our way through the medieval Mediterranean this time so grab your saddlebags and lets head to Africa and beyond!

One Thousand and One Nightmares

Image from White Wolf Wiki, based on images © White Wolf Publishing.

The Good: First off, I’m really glad to see this period getting some attention. I loved Veil of Night for the original Vampire: The Dark Ages and was excited to see this make it through as a proposed setting for Dark Eras 2. There is a short glossary here but (unlike other chapters with a language barrier) it works fairly well since the Jewish and Christian alternatives for a lot of these names can be referenced. You might not have heard of the city of Madīnat as-Salam, for example, but it takes just a moment to realize this is Medina so you don’t need as much guidance.

Likewise I found the summary of eighteen-hundred years of history over the face of half a continent to be less than I’d want to actually work with in a campaign setting, but that’s all understandable and it gives you more than enough to context to read this and then hit up Wikipedia. Much more emphasis is put on Islamic society in the ninth century and this is where outsiders like me need the most guidance anyways. Cities like Baghdad and Córdoba are reviewed not just geographically but with reference to where you might visit, what you might do.

From the supernatural perspective, I find this to be a fascinating subversion of expectations. If you described the setting of the Islamic caliphate in the 800s CE with Beasts and vampires running around then you’d be forgiven for thinking of this as a time when monsters could move with impunity through a religiously strict region of scattered cities and remote deserts. The tact that this chapter’s authors take, though, is the Golden Age of Islamic learning when monsters are put on the back foot because mortals are learning too much and acting too well together. Beasts watch all of this happening with mixed feelings (power structures threaten but humans are still learning their lessons) and vampires have to deal with mortals seeking more and more knowledge as well as cultural taboos against corpses and blood. There are other ways to showcase the culture of this period, such as a new mechanic for Beasts called the Refrain where they tell tales like Shaharazad and shape the world.

Image from White Wolf Wiki, based on images © White Wolf Publishing.

The best, though, are the covenants of the age: Ahl al-Mumit (a vengeful, angry covenant like the VTM Assamites), al-Amin (a covenant of faith), Fir’awn (polytheistic vampires like the Circle of the Crone), and Jaliniyya (scientist and doctor vampires participating in the age’s learning). Along with these come a new clan called the Dukhan, a splinter group of Mekhet who work closely with Beasts. You’ll want to hang on to this for any Beast-vampire chronicle you run independent of time period. They even have Islamic blood alchemy (for the Jaliniyya)!

The Bad: Everything that is here is great and almost everything I would look for I can see in this chapter. I think the only things that it needs to be truly great is more context for the vampire covenants. Some of the covenants have practices listed (the Ahl al-Mumit use Theban Sorcery and the Fir’awn use Crúac, the Jaliniyya get their new toy) but you really have to search these out. It was probably a word count issue but this is a barrier to get into these power groups when you want to be focusing on setting and story. I would also love to see an expansion of thought here to see more of how the clans, covenants, and Beasts of this region relate to the monsters of Europe. With the only contemporary European Dark Era (The Wolf and the Raven) being way up north there’s little guidance on how to broaden this into something like Chronicles of Darkness: Dark Ages.

Empire of Gold and Dust

  • Time Period and Setting: Empire of Mali, 1337 – 1347 CE
  • Game Lines: Hunter: The Vigil and Demon: The Descent
  • See Also: One Thousand and One Nightmares (above) and Princes of the Conquered Land (described here)
Image from White Wolf Wiki, based on images © White Wolf Publishing.

The Good: I had trouble seeing the appeal for Hunter and Demon games in the Empire of Mali. This is the ultra-rich trade empire whose caravans of gold- and spice-laden camels transformed the Islamic world and continue to influence Western culture today. Timbuktu, their massive trade-city, is still used as a far off and mysterious place, a destination that you might end up traveling to and whose character is an open question. With those riches and that mysticism in mind, surely this is a setting for vampires or mages. Maybe the grand vistas and shifting culture could lead to changeling stories, and surely there’s a mummy or too…

From the start, though, this chapter makes it clear that both hunters and demons are very much at home in the Empire of Mali. The decade focused on is the reign of Mansa Musa, the most famous mansa (king) of the empire. In addition to being described as the wealthiest man of the Middle Ages, Mansa Musa was famous for making the hajj pilgrimage to Mecca which showed his devotion to Islam and opened Malian culture to the eastern Mediterranean Islamic world and vice versa. This also opens up the empire to monsters traveling in from other places, even while the more familiar threats to mortals flee the empire entirely. The growing power, influence, and (most importantly) bureaucracy of Mansa Musa’s empire makes it a hotspot for growing infrastructure of the God-Machine. The Malinese hunters are struggling to understand what has terrified the vampires and sorcerers who have threatened their city, while demons rush to Mali to stop any plans of the God-Machine that they can manage.

Image from White Wolf Wiki, based on images © White Wolf Publishing.

Hunters operate in a similar manner to other periods, with cells, compacts, and conspiracies. A new compact, the Followers of the Mansa, offers a Malinese take on the Vigil but generally their work is unchanged except for an Islamic focus and cultural differences. Likewise, the Unchained operate in their normal hierarchies and systems but rely more heavily on their Pacts to tie them to the mortal structures that can unravel the God-Machine’s infrastructure. Given the huge numbers of Pacts in Mali at this point (including Memory Pacts which rely on the oral traditions of Mali instead of written contracts) both mortals and demons are in danger of exposure. The tone here is an empire that looks at the height of its power but is teetering on the edge due to unseen forces. A recipe for an awesome chronicle.

The Bad: There is some room here for crossover and Pacts between demons and hunters are mentioned here and there (as well as other supernaturals like changelings in a sidebar). I would have liked to see more integration, though. Maybe one or two compacts in Mali are explicitly working with demons against the God-Machine. There are a number of devout hunter groups who would surely balk at knowingly working with “shaitan” but I’d love to see some examples of hunters who would be comfortable working very closely with the demons. As it stands, you could easily have a DemonHunter crossover chronicle in the Empire of Mali but the power dynamics (both mechanically and narratively) would be heavily skewed towards the demon characters. That’s something that I would try to fix with house rules in my chronicles set here.

Light of the Sun

  • Time Period and Setting: Renaissance Italy, 1630-1640 CE
  • Game Lines: Demon: The Descent, Deviant: The Renegades, and Mage: The Awakening
  • See Also: Lily, Sabre, and Thorn, Doubting Souls, The Lost Generation, and When the Horsemen Rode (all described here)
Image © Onyx Path Studios

The Good: The focus here is religious truth, especially scientists working in the shadow of the Catholic Church as well as those philosophers and reformers arguing for social change under the Protestant Reformation. The theme of the setting is “The Price of Truth” and all three of the spotlighted game lines fit that theme exceptionally well.

Image from White Wolf Wiki, based on images © White Wolf Publishing.

For mages, this divide (the old and the new, the truth and tradition) is supported by the Seers of the Throne who are deeply invested in Sleeper politics. There’s actually some subtle parallelism that I see between this setting and the old Sorcerers Crusade for Mage: The Ascension. That setting featured the game’s main villains, the Technocracy, before they were the devastating force that modern mages know. Similarly, The Seers of the Throne were fractured and prone to infighting but in the last fifty years they have unified following the power of the Italian Renaissance. This makes a strange metaphysical divide to go with the religious divide, but the Seers themselves are also divided in which side of the Catholic-Protestant split they would like to see prevail.

The Italian landscape is heavily divided as well, politically shattered and surviving outbreaks of the Black Plague. Demons ride this out by seeing how the God-Machine’s machinations fit into disagreements over the Christian God, and avoiding the angels who work through the structure of the church in Rome. For the first time too we have Deviants showing up but since that game hasn’t actually been released yet I’m not sure exactly what to make if it. I think I’ll circle back when I review Deviant at a later date.

Image from White Wolf Wiki, based on images © White Wolf Publishing.

The Bad: Like Empire of Dust and Gold I wasn’t sure why these game lines were picked but it all works really well. There is a sense, though, that this is a Mage setting and there are a few other types of supernaturals who get to play in it. Still, the powers and goals of mages and demons are at least at a similar power level so I think this might work well, although I’d like a little more context for how mage cabals and demon rings might work together and what ultimate goals they might be pursuing. There’s probably enough from context clues (and the three cool Story Hooks) so this is more of a complaint that I don’t have a ready list to get my mind going.

Next Time…

The next four settings are all from the 17th and 18th centuries, ranging from China to Europe and out onto the ocean! I’ll tackle them all together but let me know if you have questions about these settings or you want me to cover some other aspects of the historical Chronicles of Darkness.

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