Earth as a fantasy RPG setting

This post is about using our Earth as a fantasy setting for roleplaying games like D&D or Fantasy!.

The appeal

The appeal with using Earth is that everyone already knows things. Egyptians, the Atlantic Ocean, Samurais, the Church and many other things are already there. If you play in a culture that your group is already familiar with there are symbols that can be used immediately for a feeling of authenticity.

The problems

The most obvious problems are the absence of supernatural fantasy things, and WHEN to set the campaign. I have seen the division of campaigns into Historical, Epic or Fantasy. I want to go for fantasy: there will be dragons, magic, and orcs.

The problem of WHEN is that in the history of Earth, civilizations are emerging and disappearing. And as some empires grew large, nature was also tamed and less land was truly wild and unexplored.

Another problem is unfortunately that there are people who are offended or triggered when something they care about is being depicted in a way they don’t approve with.

The solution (in principle)

We obviously need to rewrite history. Let us say the year is about 1000, but many civilizations and empires remained – smaller than at their peak – and they are now technologically mostly equal. Between these civilizations (and underground) there is wilderness, chaos and evil.

I suppose you need to cherry pick what remains and what was never there, based on what is meaningful and interesting to your group. I live in Sweden and I and my players (sadly) know nothing about the history of Belarus. So I can do what I want with that spot on the map (maybe it is an ancient empire of elves, or goblins). But you may be Polish or Ukrainian and want to center your campaign there, and Belarus has lots of references to you that you care about. Sweden on the other hand can be a land of viking barbarian orcs to you.

Europe Centric A-Z

Here follows short descriptions of countries and civilizations that can coexist. The exact borders matters little to me at this point.

Note that most nations consist largely of wilderness and that both internal and external borders can be quite fluid.

This is Europe centric because it is what I and my group know best. There is nothing right and wrong here – I am just trying to be practical.

The Alps

The naturally protected alps are home to dvarves in the mountains and elves and halflings in the valleys. There are well protected and profitable trade routes going through (and under) the mountains. However, other humanoids and dragons also dwell here.

Arabic Caliphate

Under Islamic leadership and with its political center in Mekka, the Arabic Caliphate is spreading from Southern spain, most of Sahara and northern Africa, around the Red Sea and over Arabic peninsula to the Persian gulf. These are arid, warm lands and its people are mostly fast moving nomads on camels, waging wars on many fronts. Egypt and many fertile settlements on the on the Mediteranean south coast are being proteced and held by the Roman Empire (and Christian allies and mercenaries).

Babylon

Babylon, being one of oldest great settlements, remains on the banks of Euphrates. The persians, romans, ottomans and arabs have all tried to lay hands on this desert jewel but ancient sourcery and powerful allies have kept Babylon an independent city state (effectively ruling the fertile lands around it). This is a melting pot yet an ancient place where culture, traditions, rituals and worship has survived for centuries.

Baltic Nations

The three Baltic Nations are officially duchys of Russia. However, in practice they participate in the Hansa League, and often see themselves raided by barbarians and vikings.

Byzantine Empire

The Byzantine Empire covers Balkans and Bulgaria. It is home to Orthodox Christianty and a remaining part of the once huge Roman empire. On one hand the Byzantine Empire profits from being the crossroads of trade between east and west, on the other hand it struggles to protect all its boarders.

Catalonia

Catalonia has liberated itself from Muslim occupation and since then acted as an independent state.

Denmark

Denmark is a viking monarchy, often at wars with its neighbors. It is a strong agriculture and trading nation and Christianity has made little progress here.

Egypt

The ancient religous nation of Egypt was under control of the Roman Empire for long. However, it regained independence and is strongly allied with Rome against the Muslim campaigns and domination in northern Africa. Egypt is a religous dictatorship ruled by a divine Pharao, with some cities (mostly Alexandria) being open to foreigners and more international and multicultural.

England

England is a Kingdom of wealth and struggle, often at war with its neighbors. The Christian Anglican church dominates, but there are conflicts with other christian groups, pagans, druids and even vikings.

Finland

Finland is the land of Elves in northern Europe. Some towns along the coast have a significant human population and manage trade with Hansa.

France

France is a Christian kingdom, engaged in holy wars far from its own borders, while struggling to stay safe from Saxons, Germanic tribes, and Muslim onslaught in the south.

Germanic Tribes

The lands of Germany and Poland are largely wilderness, inhabited by barbaric tribes (and other humanoids). However, there are smaller kingdoms in these lands, and trade routes going through them.

Greece

Greece, the cradle of democracy, remains. Athens being the cultural and political center and Sparta being the home of the military that has defened the ancient nation countless times. Christianity is tolerated side by side with the old gods of Greece. Greece is also largely a nation of islands with a significant trade and military fleet.

Hansa Trade League

Towns and lands around southern Baltic sea form the Hansa Trade League. This is an economic, but also military alliance, with influence far beyond its member towns.

Holy Lands

Between the Ottoman empire, Egypt, the Persian Empire and the Arabic Caliphat lies the Holy Lands. Christians and Muslims struggle for control of the holy sites, especially Jerusalem. There is obviously room for a jewish aspect, or not, depending on your preferences. Apart from Jerusalem, there are desert city states like Palmyra here.

Iceland

Iceland, populated with outcasts and refugees from Scandinavia and the British isles, is a viking meritocracy and democracy. The Icelandic’s have settlements also in Greenland and Newfoundland.

Ireland

Ireland is a rural and pagan country dominated by druids. In some towns along the south east coast there are many Christians and they serve as intellectual melting pots. Both halflings and elves are common in Ireland.

Italy and the Roman Empire

Northern Italy consists of free city states, advanced in trade, culture and freedom of expression, and melting pots in the crossroads of Europe.

Southern Italy is the core of what remains of the West Roman Empire. There is decadence and arrogance but the empire is rich and with a strong military. However much wealth comes from lands in northern Africa which are part of the empire but now at war with Muslim forces.

Many Romans worship the old gods of the empire, however at the same time the Vatican and Pope in Rome are the head of Christians.

Normandy

The ambitious Normands managed to forge their own kingdom, aspiring to expand over the English channel.

Norway

Norway, the coastal areas, are lands of vikings making a living plundering, trading and fishing. There is not much central government (although attempts are being made). The vast mountains hosts dvarves and monsters.

Ottoman Empire

The Ottoman Empire has internal religious power struggles between different religons groups (both Christian and Muslim). It is a vast country with untamed dangerous wilderness and ambitous rulers struggle to maintain the borders even though they occationally engage in foreign campaigns.

Persian Empire

The Persian empire is ancient vast and complex. Islam is growing more influential.

Portugal

Portugal is a Christian kingdom mostly looking westward doing trade and some warfare in South America. Portugal has a strong fleet and is a strong trade nation.

Romania (Transylvania)

Romania has been part of both the old Roman Empire, the Byzantian Empire and the Ottaman empire. However, dark forces are moving here and Romania now consists of city states and smaller independent nations. However it is well established that sourcerors, vampires and perhaps even priests in unholy alliances rule these lands.

Russian Empire

The huge Russian empire has few borders. This nation upholds civilization in unlikely places. Officially the Tsar rules with an iron hand, but in practice power is given to local lords and the empire is losely kept together.

Chistianity dominates among the elite and in the large cities.

Saxony

Saxons are an old people with a young nation located south of the English Channels. Saxons have been influential in England and they have been at war with all their neighbors.

Scotland

Southern Scotland is a kingdom (Scotland), often at war with England, and often allied to France. Christianity is dominant in Scotland.

Northern Scotland is inhabited by barbarian clans.

Spain

Spain is a Christian kingdom at war with Muslims occupying the southern parts of the nations since over a century. The kingdom has family and political relations to the kingdoms of France, Normandy, England and Scotland but because of the wars within its own borders it has lost position to England and France.

Catalonia has declared independence from the weakened kingdom, yet stands against the Muslims.

Sudan

Sudan and Khartoum are centres of trade between Africa, Europe (via Egypt) and the middle east. Slaves is one of the most important goods.

Sweden

Southern Sweden is a quite rural pagan evolving feudal monarchy. This is a land of mostly wilderness and civilization is centered around some towns. Norse gods are still worshiped but Christianity is growing.

Gotland and the southeast of Sweden belongs to the Hansa trade league, and is a bit more advanced.

Northern parts of Sweden lack government and consists of vikings, barbarians, nomads (samis), dwarves, and other humanoids.

Wales

Wales is druid land, opposing monarchy and Christianity.

Beyond and other Continents

China and India deserves the same complexity, diversity and depths as all of Europe and if you choose to locate your campaign here you probably know what to do. I think of China as en ancient empire, struggling with being united and shattered over and over again.

North America is probably home to elves and native tribes (druids and rangers), and some viking settlements.

South America has its own militaristic empires, and som portuguese settlements.

Africa south of Sahara is a rich land of kingdoms and perhaps even empires of its own.

Japan is an advanced monarcy, quite isolated, but not unknown.

Antarctica has huge potential with ancient elven kingdoms under the ice, and lurking horrors.

Islands

Islands are great opportunities for things more outside the norm on Earth. Svalbard, Corse, Sicily, Crete, Canary Islands and the Hebrides all provide opportunity for extra spicy things.

Monsters and Beasts

Europe can seem crowded. But Africa and Siberia can host wild creatures and dragons that occationally visit Europe and even settle there. Evil humanoids (goblins and orcs) live in forests, mountains and underground.

Religion

I think religion is one of the best reasons to place your campaign on Earth. Apart from the world religions you also have old Norse, Greek, Roman and Egyptian gods, as well as druids and nature worshipping. It is all quite consistent and familiar, with lots of useful references and symbology.

Languages

Not being able to talk to anyone is rarely useful for good roleplaying experience. Latin comes in handy, perhaps in combination with a “common-anglo-germanic” language.

Historic People

I have avoided making references to historic people. I think Buddha, Jesus and Mohammed are needed. I can imagine the french making references to Charlemagne (as former or current king) and why not make references to Ceasar as well?

History

The exact passing of history was, and is, not known to most people or even most historians. You don’t need to know. They players don’t need to know. You can use “I am a direct decendent of Saladin, liberator of Jerusalem” in your game, and the players can believe what they want. Or you can make reference to the 100-year-war-between-babylon-and-persia, if you need to.

Hyborian Age

Was this Fantasy Earth following the Hyborian Age as in Howards stories about Conan? If you want to, it can be a soure of references: ancient artifacts, lost underground cities and Set the snake god.

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