Help me design my medieval/Renaissance, alternate earth campaign world

Azlan

First Post
I'm creating a campaign world that is an alternate Earth, during the medieval/Renaissance times. Magic will exist in this world, but it will be less common than in typical high fantasy worlds such as the Forgotten Realms. This world will be historically accurate, though not strictly so, for much of myth, legends, and folklore will be made reality.

Now, ideas, suggestions, and rules for low-magic worlds have already been discussed in other threads, so there's no need for us to discuss that here. What I am asking for, here, is ideas and rules for something else altogether.

First, for this world, players will not be able to choose from the standard D&D races, i.e. elves, half-elves, dwarves, halflings, and gnomes. Instead, all player characters will be human. (I may sometimes allow a player character who's human with fae blood, but that will be at least +1 ECL, and those player characters will be the exception, not the norm.) What players will be able to choose from is the initial culture of their characters, which will give ability adjustments, favored classes, languages, and so forth, in the same vein as those given in the PH for races. These cultures will include:

urban commoner
country commoner
barbarian
merchant/guild family
monkish/religious order
low nobility (but not high nobility -- that's strictly for NPCs)

Question #1: Is this list of cultures all-enclusive, offering an ideal amount of variation that is historically accurate (with legend and fiction allowed for), while still being generic and minimal, as is the list of races in the D&D 3.5 PH?

Question #2: Given this list of cultures, what would you assign to them, i.e. what ability adjustments, favored classes, languages, free skills/feats, etc.? Above all, the cultures should be pretty much balanced with one another, just as the races are in the PH. Then again, perhaps certain cultures (particularly low noblity) should be +1 ECL, considering what all they give to a character?

Next up, I want to compile a list of languages that characters can speak. Again, I want a list that is all-enclusive and historical, while still being as generic and minimal as possible. For example, do I really need for Spanish and Portugese to be two, separate languages? (I dunno... do I? I know not enough about languages to know.)

So, question #3: What should be the list of languages, given the medieval/Renaissance setting, which includes all of Europe? And what should be added to that list if the following countries are (optionally) included in the campaign: northern Africa, all of the Middle East (including India), and the more prominent parts of Asia?

Question #4: If I decide to make language skills more realistic, making characters need more than 1 rank to know how to fully speak and write a different language, then what languages on the list should be related enough to where, if you have at least 5 ranks with one, you get a +2 synergy bonus with the other?
 
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morbiczer

First Post
Re: Languages

I'll try to give some advice for the languages.

There were many more languages in medieval Europe than today. In France for example, people in the south spoke provancal (or occitan, I think this is the same kanguages), In Brittany breton and so on. People from different parts of the country would have had difficulty understanding each other. Same for Germany, someone from Bavaria would have had big difficulties understanding someone from the northern coast (well, maybe that hasn't changed even today :).

In the Middle Ages there was for example no Spanish, well, there wasn't even Spain. People in Castily (sp?) spoke Castilian, in Aragon Catalonian and so on. People in Catalonia still don't speak Spanish (which is actually Castilian), but there own language (Catalonian), which surely resembles Spanish, but is a different languag of his own.

In Italy people from the south had serious problems understanding people from the north even in the second half of the 19th century

Since there was no radio or TV, no real print media, the large majority of people didn't travel, etc. local differences in languages could live on fo a very long time.

For your project I'd suggest to look into some Ars Magica product. There you surely will find a short list of languages in medieval Europe. If this isn't an option for you, simply take today's languages, the diferences aren't THAT great.

Sorry. To lazy to check for spelling. :(
 

simmo

First Post
This post is not really intended to answer your specific questions, but I would highly recommend looking in to Swashbuckling Adventures (d20 system) and 7th Sea (d10 system).

It is a comprehensive alternative Europe (and beyond) setting which deals with creating characters from different sections of society. Detailed society information for different countries, as well as languages, skills/feats for each country. It has rules on what languages people from one country are more likely to know. (Although we have implemented a house rule in our campaign that you need to spend an extra point to be able to read/write a non-native language or be fluent in it).

It also has secret societies, timelines that mimic European development and different forms of magic. Some more subtle than others, especially in the 7th Sea version.
 

s/LaSH

First Post
Q1: What level do career soldiers come in at? Merchants or commoners? Or their own stage? I'm not sure what background such people had... they say if you want a longbowman, train his grandfather, indicating some sort of martial lineage.

Q2: Personally, I'd do away with ECLing any culture. I'd find what makes that culture best - physical endurance and wild lore ranging across to broad education and abundant monetary resources as you ascend the social ladder. I certainly wouldn't be 'realistic' and demand that all commoners were shrunken, diseased waifs with a natural life expectency slightly longer than that of a distempered dog; the peasant types that go adventuring are likely to be the big, burly types who've survived the plague, ha ha me laddy etc. Aristocrats might have more weapons proficiency, but not be as tough.

Q3: Regionalised language cannot be overstated. If you live in your farming valley, leaving every 6 months to sell sheep in the next valley, you don't need to share much language with people 10 miles down the road beyond words for 'sheep', 'coin' and 'cheating bleeper'. I think that's why 'dead' languages such as Latin stuck around so long - they were established, fixed quantities that had large provenance. Further afield, I don't really know - I suspect some variety of Arabic would be very influential in the Middle East and Africa, but India and Asia would probably be hodgepodges of dialects, with the possible exception of coastal China - which would still have dialects, just one language group would be dominant, much like Latin in the West. It's possible that Japan, with its strictly phonetic alphabet and predominant noble literacy, had a regulatory factor necessary to bind their language together, but I don't know.

Regulatory factor, now that I mention it, is very important. A widespread empire is likely to regulate language towards its native tongue; widespread literacy and/or the printing press (thus mass-produced books) also regulate language. These things were in short supply in those days, especially in Europe. When they did become dominant... well, Shakespeare is still quite legible today, while go back a couple more centuries and blink confusedly. Printing is powerful.

Q4: I'm no linguist. But I'm sure googling around for 'language families' or the 'history of languages' wouldn't hurt. Most of 'em'll probably go back to an Indian religious language, if I remember correctly, but break up a few thousand years ago...
 

Aethelstan

First Post
A few thoughts about your campaign cultures. You might consider adding a culture named something like "urban outcast/lowlife." Renaissance cities positively teemed with a rootless underclass of beggers, thieves, wenches and the like. Unlike the "urban commoner," they had no proper employment and were outside the ties of family and kin, "la familia," which bound together much of Renaissance society.
For example, a PC urban commoner might be a printers apprentice who becomes a wizard whereas a urban outcast might be an orphan turned cutpurse.

Also, Renaissance Europe lacked a culture which would produce anything resembling the standard D&D barbarian (mabye Scottish Highlander or some other Celtic fringe loony, but that's pushing it). One of the distinct characteristics of the Renaissance is its urban focus. A true barabarian - say, historically speaking, a Russian Tartar - would be lucky to get past the city gates. Any PC who comported himself like a barbarian would find negotiating life in the big city a persistant hassle.

D&D Renaissance style can be quiet interesting, but in order to make it work, you have to change or remove some of the basic assumptions and sterotypes underlying a classic D&D campaign.
 

Eosin the Red

First Post
Ars Magica and 7th Sea are both good choices. Personally, 7th Sea is great cause it is just different enough that players don't automatically know the details better than you but it close enough that they get the broad strokes without working up a sweat.

The concept behind magic and stuff is fantastic.

Take a look at it. I would get one of the old Players and GM's Handbooks....they can likely be found on the cheap. If nothing else they are fantastic for ideas.
 


Dogbrain

First Post
morbiczer said:
I'll try to give some advice for the languages.

There were many more languages in medieval Europe than today. In France for example, people in the south spoke provancal (or occitan, I think this is the same kanguages), In Brittany breton and so on. People from different parts of the country would have had difficulty understanding each other.(


An example of this: Caxton wrote, in 1387, the following:

And specyally he axyed after eggys. And the good wyf answerde that she coude speke no frenshe. And the marchaunt was angry for he also coude speke no frenshe but wold haue hadde egges and she vnderstode hym not. And thenne at laste a nother sayd that he wolde haue eyren. Then the good wyf sayd that she vnderstood hym wel

(Of amusing digression to me is that the alleged "street" pronunciation of "ax" is considered to be an appropriate alternate to "ask" by no less a literary light than Caxton at this time.)
 

Dogbrain

First Post
The first thing you will need to do is actually set a period. "Medieval/Renaissance" is so vast as to be meaningless. Pick a time, then I can help you. Here is a VERY ROUGH AND INACCURATE timeline to use as a guide:


Dark Age: AD400-AD700
Barbarian Empires: AD700-AD1000
High Chivalry: AD1000-AD1300
Fall of Chivalry: AD1300-AD1400
Early Renaissance: AD1400-AD1500
Late Renaissance: AD1500-AD1600
Early Modern: AD1600-AD1700

These are gross simplifications, of course.
Note that virtually ALL of what would be called "swashbuckling" is post-Renaissance.
 

Dogbrain

First Post
morbiczer said:
If this isn't an option for you, simply take today's languages, the diferences aren't THAT great.


Ande quen this Bretayn watz bigged bi this burn rych,
Bolde bredden therinne, baret that lofden,
In mony turned tyme tene that wroghten.
Mo feryles on this folde han fallen here oft
Then in any other that I wot, syn that ilk tyme.


Okay, what is that in modern English?
 

Inconsequenti-AL

Breaks Games
I'd second that Ars Magica is worth looking at... an interesting take on magic + history. Possibly a little more mage centered than a D20 game would want to be be, suprisingly!

As far as it goes, I'd take the idealised features of each background and get them to balance rather than have ECL.

Perhaps low born backgrounds end up with more practical skills as opposed to the money/contacts of a nobleman.

The backgrounds look nice and inclusive. However, I'd probably add in some sort of military background - peasant levies, cheap mercenaries... and possibly outcast/criminal backgrounds.
 

Guilberwood

First Post
Just my 2 cents:

I speak both spanish and portuguese, and I can tell you that they're very different leanguages. They have things in comon, of course, but knowing one does not mean you know the other.

Everyone suggested great RPG books, well, I'm going to suggest you classics:

The hunchback of nothredam (is that how it's written in english?) from Vitor Hugo, it's a great book with a LOTS of details about renaissance, especially about the way of life, the people, poverty and politics

The 3 musketeers (Alexandre Dumas) is also a great book too

Hope it helps
 

morbiczer

First Post
Dogbrain said:
Ande quen this Bretayn watz bigged bi this burn rych,
Bolde bredden therinne, baret that lofden,
In mony turned tyme tene that wroghten.
Mo feryles on this folde han fallen here oft
Then in any other that I wot, syn that ilk tyme.


Okay, what is that in modern English?

That's not what I meant. I meant that if in his game world all people in present day Spain would speak Spanish (and Catalonian) and all people in France would speak French and all people in Italy would speak Italian, than this wouldn't be historically accurate, but in my opinion would be okay for an RPG. After all it is impossible to complely reconstruct the real life of medieval Europe and he'll have to make compromises in any case.
 


Azlan

First Post
More than one person here has recommened Ars Magica.

However, I already have most of the books for Ars Magica. I just searched through all of them, and I cannot find a list of languages in any of the books. Here are the books I searched through...

Ars Magica (both 3rd and 4th Editions)
Mythic Europe


I also have most of the books for Vampire: The Dark Ages and for Mage: The Sorcerers Crusade, and I cannot find a list of languages in any of those, either. I found tables that listed coins, units of measurements, noble titles, and so forth -- but not one that listed languages! Here are the books I searched through...

Vampire: The Dark Ages
Dark Ages Companion
Mage: The Sorcerers Crusade
Sorcerers Crusade Companion
Crusade Lore
Castles & Covenants

What gives? Are medieval/Renaissance languages too many and too complex for game developers to condense and standardize, for use with a roleplaying game?

:(

Or did I overlook something, in my search through the books I listed... ?

What about GURPS: Middle Ages? Does anyone have that one; and if so, can they look through it to see if there's a list of languages?
 
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Turjan

Explorer
Azlan said:
Are medieval/Renaissance languages too many and too complex for game developers to condense and standardize, for use with a roleplaying game?
Well, you want to stick to the term medieval/Renaissance then, this means, a period of 1,200 years with countless changes and vast cultural differences?
If you just want to stick to the end of the period, take a map of modern Europe and count the countries. That's about the number of languages you have, though the borders often don't fit the language borders. Some languages are spoken in several countries (e.g., French or German) and some countries have several languages (Belgium, Switzerland or Finland). That's obviously quite easy.

I'm aware of the fact that this is a vast simplification, but you certainly don't want to deal with hundreds of languages.
 
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Azlan

First Post
Turjan said:
Well, you want to stick to the term medieval/Renaissance then, this means, a period of 1,200 years with countless changes and vast cultural differences?

Okay, the 14th Century, then. That's pretty much the time period that most D&D worlds are equivalently set in (given the availability of plate armor and other Renaissance technologies), and it's is good enough for my purposes, here.

So, how about a list of languages for the 14th Century?
 

Turjan

Explorer
Azlan said:
Okay, the 14th Century, then. That's pretty much the time period that most D&D worlds are equivalently set in (given the availability of plate armor and other Renaissance technologies), and it's is good enough for my purposes, here.
Okay, that's clearly Middle Ages then (Renaissance started in the 15th century in Italy and in the 16th century in the rest of Europe). Although it's not completely correct, because the languages were not that unified by education as they are today, you could still use the suggested approach and take modern day languages as a basis. Approaches like, e.g., splitting German in its three language groups, will be a bit too much.

Okay, here is a rough list of most modern European languages:

1. Indogermanic languages

1.1 Germanic Languages

Norwegian (this consists actually of two languages, but nevermind ;))
Swedish
Danish
Icelandic
English
Dutch
German
Jiddish

1.2 Romanic languages

Portuguese
Galician
Spanish
Katalan
French
Sardic
Italian
Raeto-Romanic
Romanian
Moldavian

1.3 Celtic languages

Breton
Gaelic
Welsh

1.4. Greek

Well, Greek :D

1.5 Baltic languages

Lithuanian
Latvian
Prussian (may already have been extinct)

1.6 Albanian

Well, Albanian ;)

1.8 Slavonic languages

1.8.1 West-Slavonic languages

Polish
Czech
Slovak
Sorbian

1.8.2 East-Slavonic languages

Russian
Ukrainian
Byelorussian

1.8.3 South-Slavonic languages

Slovenic
Serbo-Croatian
Macedonian
Bulgarian

2. Basque (the oldest European language; no relatives)

3. Uralian languages

Hungarian
Finnish
Karelian
Estonian

4. Turk languages

Turkish
(some more in Russia, like Tartaric)

5. Semitic languages

Maltese


Okay, the list is not complete, but it will do :). Of course, you can always split French or German or other languages in many different dialects, but this should do :).
 
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One thing to remember when you are casting about for language rules is that most people who travelled at all during this period, which is an if if a lot of common histories are to be believed, probably spoke many many more languages than the modern equivalent.

So my initial suggestion would be to either up the PCs ability to speak multiple languages or just assume that the standard rules are an abstraction of the many language groups a PC is proficient in.

Also, in terms of your cultures, you definitely want a courtly noble culture and a wilderness culture.

Wilderness characters are an important trope of the period in literature, religion, and histories. The thing to remember is that the wilderness is a lot closer than we think of it. People in most of the cultures of the period were extremely community bound and living outside of community boundaries certainly made you weird and probably made you supernatural. St. Francis of Assissi's monastary is good half-afternoon's walk from the town and that was considered tremendously rugged. There are also plenty of records of strange folks who practically consitute a barbarian culture and probably live no more than a day's travel from the local municipality. Those are the types yer barbarians, rangers, and druids come from.

Courtly nobles are just a very different breed from the sort of nobles at arms or on the land that we generally think of.

You might also consider a wandering men sort of culture to simulate the people who lived their whole lives in the merchants troops or mercenary bands that moved from market to market and never left camp.

I highly recommend the Chronicles of Ash. They are an extremely well researched alternative history with small amounts of impressive magic that take place in a period maybe a century after the one you have decided on.

Really really fantastic books.
 

Turjan

Explorer
Btw, there were languages that had a wider spread than others. I'm not sure whether it was already commonplace in the 14th century, but French became the language of Europe's nobility. Some of them even didn't know their country's language very well :D. Jiddisch was spoken within much of Europe's Jewish community, and German was a common trade language in most of Central Europe. Of course, the Ottoman Empire was still thriving, and Turkish was the way to go in the southeast :).
 

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