Sunday, 2 October 2016

Terrae Verterbrae: Concept, Introductions

Terrae Vertebrae - Dog-Latin for "The Land of the Spine" - is the name given to the first setting I put together for my own games. With the basis of the 52 Pages at heart, the initial creation owed much to the usual set of Medieval European myths and folklore that so much of modern fantastical literature does. If no more than to not overwhelm my audience with my own unique flora, fauna and customs (being able to point at a character and say "That is a wizard," or "That is a dragon," is useful, at least at first).

Of course, the stereotypes of the genre are as well worn and cliched as any other genre fare. To give them a certain amount of pep, originality, or at least my own spin seemed desirable. Besides, as a student of medieval history, I would on balance prefer to avoid the usual mistakes about the period. Medieval Europe covers a great many bases: Norse settlement in the wastes of Iceland, Moorish Spain, Constantinople and the faded glories of Rome with the Turks knocking at the door. Yes, also Merrie England, Robin Hood and King Arthur. 

I did in time put together a set of boundaries for what this might turn out to be:  

What is Terra Verterbrae?

It is....a struggle; IE you can win and change the world, but it takes a lot of effort and not a few deaths along the way.

It is....sane. Rampant poverty exists in some areas of cities but they are not uniformly hellholes. Human society fulfils its functions. The King might be wicked, weak or a wastrel, but killing him is only going to kick things into a state of horror.

It is....colourful. . More than a few dyes have been discovered. Yes, knights have practical armour, but they have gaudy livery. Our Vikings wear clown trousers (See this article: ).

It is....shifting. Social movements, religious changes, politics –all these things are happening.  We aren’t looking at the Kingdom of Light and Happiness that occasionally has to tough up the Hordes of Darkness, then go back to the way they were.

It is...flawed. The King who compiles a fair-ish set of laws is still something of a xenophobe. The Heroine who saved her village hates the Unbelievers. The Wizard who has seen the wonders of multiple planes of existence is aloof and unconcerned by the starving peasants at his door.

It is....measured. I don’t say realistic – but I do say measured. It isn’t slavishly devoted to Historical realism. At the same time, not everyone has magic amulets in the home.  Dwarven underground realms don’t starve for lack of food, but do have complex systems based around the supply of it.

It is....unfamiliar. We can all trot out the usual D&D stereotypes. I’m trying to avoid that a bit. Moreover, this is an entirely different culture. The assumptions, the codes of conduct are as least as alien as those of historical periods in the real world.

In 25 words or less? High-Late Medieval Europe (and beyond) as seen through National Epics, Saint’s Cults, Individualistic Dwarves, Community-centred Elves, Fauns, Babel by way of Barsoom and occasional wizardry.

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