Fantasy Byzantine Setting Brainstorming

gyor

Legend
I had a thought that a Fantasy Byzantine inspired setting might be different from other 5e settings so far.

So my thoughts so far are instead of Christianity as the state religion you have a none Christian Gnostism that worships the Aeons and a Henadic Platonism inspired by Proclus, with a minority of pre-Islamic Arab mythology based Genasi.

An Empress inspired by Theodora would be the ruler.

Off and on wars with Djinn ruled nations to their east.

Maybe make Aasimar, Tieflings, Triton, and Genasi the major minorities. Elves, Gnomes, Halflings and Dragonborn coming from the Undead plagued West, with Egyptian Ptah and Bes themed Dwarves come from the south.

Any suggestions?
 
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Derren

Adventurer
Include some brutish people from the north as personal guard of the emperor to represent the Varangian Guard

And alchemist fire (or a even more fantasy equivalent). They were famous for it.
And some fantasy version of chariot races. Those things were known to sometimes spark mass riots when the favourite team lost.
 
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atanakar

Adventurer
I'm very fond of the wargame called Broken Legions (Osprey Games). Players form a band of soldiers (romans, greek, egyptian, etc) and must fight against supernatural creatures and beings trying to invade the ancient world. Always thought it would make a good premise for a rpg campaign.
 

Beleriphon

Totally Awesome Pirate Brain
On Byzantine settings, remember that the Byzantines didn't consider themselves Byzantine; they considered themselves the Roman Empire continued after the sacking of Rome.

Also, what time period do you want? Since you refer to Theodora that seems like early Byzantine, since by the end they basically held Constantiople and the Peloponesse region of Greece.

Fun fact: the Empire had a Bureau of Barbarians that was responsible for protocols involving "barbarians", and may have been an intelligence agency as well. That sounds like just the kind of organization that adventurers would belong to.
 

dave2008

Legend
On Byzantine settings, remember that the Byzantines didn't consider themselves Byzantine; they considered themselves the Roman Empire continued after the sacking of Rome.

Also, what time period do you want? Since you refer to Theodora that seems like early Byzantine, since by the end they basically held Constantiople and the Peloponesse region of Greece.

Fun fact: the Empire had a Bureau of Barbarians that was responsible for protocols involving "barbarians", and may have been an intelligence agency as well. That sounds like just the kind of organization that adventurers would belong to.
He describes a very fictional fantasy BE, I don't think you want to get to stuck to history.
 

Beleriphon

Totally Awesome Pirate Brain
He describes a very fictional fantasy BE, I don't think you want to get to stuck to history.
True, but if you want to base it on the Byzantines it helps to know what period you want to emulate. So, the big things are the Byzantines under Justinian were a powerful force in the region and really were a valid successor state to the Roman Empire. By the end of the Palaiologos era it was pretty much a shadow of its form glory having be thoroughly conquered by the Ottomans.

So we can have an empire in a state of growth and conquest trying to prove they are valid successors to the previous larger empire's name and glory, we can have an empire in decline, or we can have something in between where they are the height of power but in a constant state of flux and threatened with losing that power.

I'd personally look at the third option, since it sets up interesting scenarios with neighbours. In particular the Kievian Rus stand-ins whom the Byzantine Empire was in conflict with over the centuries, and more than once just paid to fight a proxy war for them.
 

jayoungr

Hero
This could also be helpful--it's explicitly (one author's version of) "fantasy Byzantium":


The sourcebook is system-neutral. I own it, and although I haven't had a chance to read the whole thing, I like what I've seen.
 

Derren

Adventurer
Two more things that might fit:
  • Have many power players in the city, especially in the palace, with their own agenda. and a lot of intrigue. After all there is a reason why the word "byzantine" became synonymous with very complex and intransparent systems.
  • Constantinople was famous for its walls and that it was impossible to conquer.
 
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Mikeythorn

Explorer
Byzantine politics was actually not that complicated or baroque, it just looked that way to the Western Europeans at the time used to relatively basic levels of bureaucracy. But you could certainly have scheming eunuchs and nobles if that would add fun to your game.

Instead of Theodora, have you thought about using Zoe and (a different) Theodora as your rulers? Two sisters who ruled as co-equals but who really did not get along. One a bit wild, prone to bad decisions and power-hungry and the other who really, really just wanted to retire to a nunnery.
 

Samloyal23

Adventurer
Byzantine politics was actually not that complicated or baroque, it just looked that way to the Western Europeans at the time used to relatively basic levels of bureaucracy. But you could certainly have scheming eunuchs and nobles if that would add fun to your game.

Instead of Theodora, have you thought about using Zoe and (a different) Theodora as your rulers? Two sisters who ruled as co-equals but who really did not get along. One a bit wild, prone to bad decisions and power-hungry and the other who really, really just wanted to retire to a nunnery.
Go with the rumour, innuendo, and stereotypes, they create more drama. Convert the Dune Trader from Athas as a merchant class, throw in some Eunuch Warlocks from OA into the royal court and bureuacracy, adapt OA ninjas to act as spies employed by nobles in court. Constantinople was at a crossroads of Europe and Asia, exotic foreigners should be a common sight, so characters from Mahasarpa or Nyambe should not even raise an eyebrow in such a cosmopolitan city.
 

Eltab

Adventurer
One of the political factions wants to "restore the grandeur of the Empire that was" and advocates for expensive open-ended campaigns to reconquer former provinces. This group might hire the PCs as an information source and also to tackle problems in the province, to make their goal look more easily achievable.
 

Samloyal23

Adventurer
One of the political factions wants to "restore the grandeur of the Empire that was" and advocates for expensive open-ended campaigns to reconquer former provinces. This group might hire the PCs as an information source and also to tackle problems in the province, to make their goal look more easily achievable.
Londo Mollari would have fit in well in this period, you could base an NPC on him, a noble who wants his kingdom to be feared around the world.
 
First thought: It's not a Byzantine setting without gangs of chariot-team hoodlums being a major force in imperial politics that can shut down the city with riots or even oust the emperor.
 

jayoungr

Hero
I mentioned this thread to some friends of mine, and they recommended the Legion of Videssos books by Harry Turtledove. Also Sailing to Sarantium by Guy Gavriel Kay. I haven't read any of the books, so I pass on their comments without endorsing them. :)
 

Mikeythorn

Explorer
Another favourite Byzantine figure of mine is Basil I. Born a (probably illiterate) peasant who gained a little renown as a wrestler, he came to the notice of emperor Michael ‘The Drunkard’ when he witnessed Basil knock a horse unconscious with a single punch. Basil became a drinking buddy of Michael, and climbed the ladder of influence. Michael was, perhaps unsurprisingly given his nickname, not a good leader - and the nobles seemed quite happy when Basil murdered him and claimed the throne for himself.

Despite this highly dubious start to his career, Basil turned out to be a great emperor who rebuilt relations with the western church, oversaw a revival in Byzantium’s sway in the Mediterranean and - most famously - conducted a major overhaul of the empire’s legal system.
 

Draegn

Explorer
For my current campaign I altered history. Julian the Apostate won and is Julian the Just and Fair. Constantinople is Julianopolis. Instead of Christianity, the Roman pantheon is followed.
 

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