RPG Evolution: The Sea Peoples Campaign

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Map By Alexikoua - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, File:Bronze Age End.svg - Wikimedia Commons

From the devastating effects of climate change to the rise of the Sea Peoples and the consequential fall of ancient civilizations, this campaign offers players a unique opportunity to shape history.

The State of Affairs

At the height of its powers during the Late Bronze Age, Egypt was a dominant and prosperous civilization in the eastern Mediterranean region. The period commonly known as the New Kingdom (1550 BCE to 1077 BCE) marked Egypt's peak in terms of military might, political stability, and cultural achievement. During this time, Egypt was ruled by powerful pharaohs such as Thutmose III, Amenhotep III, and Ramses II, who conducted successful military campaigns, expanded Egyptian influence, and amassed great wealth and resources. The Egyptian army was renowned for its advanced chariotry, making it a formidable force in the region.

The Hittite Empire, centered in the region of Anatolia (modern-day Turkey), reached its zenith during the Late Bronze Age. The Hittites established a centralized state with a strong monarchy, led by powerful kings who held significant political and military authority. The Hittite army was formidable, equipped with advanced weaponry and chariots. They engaged in territorial expansion, conquering neighboring regions and establishing vassal states to consolidate their power.

The Mycenaean culture flourished in the Late Bronze Age in ancient Greece. The Mycenaeans, named after their most prominent city of Mycenae, established a powerful civilization that exerted influence over the Aegean region. The Mycenaean society was characterized by a warrior aristocracy ruling over a hierarchical society. The king, often referred to as a wanax, held a central position of authority and commanded a formidable military force. Mycenaean warriors, known for their use of bronze weapons and advanced military tactics, played a crucial role in the defense and expansion of the empire.

Any one of these cultures provides a wide range of potential character classes and species (I created 5E RPG: Ancient Adventures which provides some examples). These three superpowers were fully capable of defending themselves, but by the end of the Late Bronze Age, only one would survive.

A Recipe for Disaster

No one knows what prompted the massive invasion of the Sea Peoples, but there are theories. There is evidence of climatic fluctuations, including droughts, crop failures, and ecological disruptions. Climate change could have resulted in food shortages and resource scarcity, prompting population movements and migrations in search of more favorable conditions. This pressure, combined with overpopulation and the resulting economic disruption, gave the Sea Peoples no choice to not just attack, but stage a full scale invasion in which they took over nations, obliterating entire cities in the process.

In the earliest stage, PCs might witness the onset of climate change and its disastrous consequences. As resource scarcity and environmental disasters grip the world, they can assume the roles of survivors, soldiers, and emissaries tasked with unraveling the causes of the calamity and seeking solutions. Their actions may involve gathering ancient knowledge, locating hidden artifacts, or studying celestial phenomena to understand the unfolding crisis.

The Invasion Begins

The Sea Peoples were a confederation of various groups who conducted maritime raids and invasions in the eastern Mediterranean. Different ancient sources mention different groups, and their identification and categorization can vary, but scholars have identified up to nine different tribes: Peleset/Philistines, Tjeker, Shekelesh, Denyen/Danuna, Weshesh, Sherden, Lukka/Lukki, Ekwesh, and Teresh. These tribes were all known for their seafaring and military prowess, and in some cases employed as mercenaries by the other superpowers.

Egypt came into conflict with the Hittites over control of Syria, and fought them at Kadesh in 1286 BC. The Sea Peoples were there too, employed by mercenaries for both sides: the Lukka and the Dardanians, both from the south coast of Anatolia, fought for the Hittites, while the Sherden fought for the Egyptians. The battle proved inconclusive, so the superpowers signed a peace treaty in 1268 BC.

The first recorded incident of a Sea People invasion was 1028 BC, when the pharaoh Merneptah repelled the Sea Peoples. It would not be the last.

In a fantasy campaign, the identity of the Sea Peoples can be literal sea monsters like aboleths, koalinth, locathah, merfolk, merrow, sahuagin, sea elves or tritons. Or they could be other seafaring nations from terrestrial species, with enough different groups to accommodate a wide variety of enemies.

As tensions escalate, PCs can become central figures in the great nations' efforts to defend against the full-scale invasion. They may be generals leading armies into battle, commanders defending strategic locations, or advisors influencing key decisions. PCs will face critical choices that will determine the fates of their nations and the outcome of battles as the Sea Peoples attack.

Descent into Darkness

As the Sea Peoples' onslaught intensifies, PCs may find themselves amidst the chaos of crumbling civilizations. Their roles might involve leading rescue missions, safeguarding vulnerable communities, or venturing into occupied territories to gather intelligence and mount guerrilla-style attacks against Sea Peoples' forces.

In the span of just 150 years, the Sea Peoples wreaked havoc on the mighty Late Bronze Age nations. By the end of the thirteenth century BC, the Hittite empire collapsed and disappeared. A culture which thrived in Anatolia for nearly a thousand years, the Hittite empire was so utterly destroyed that it was forgotten until modern archaeology uncovered evidence of its existence. The Levantine cities of Emar and Ugarit were razed, as were several sites in Palestine. The civilization of Mycenaean Greece was obliterated. In Egypt, Ramses III and his army fought a desperate battle against the combined forces of the Peleset, the Tjerkru, the Shekelesh, the Da'anu, and the Washosh. Though they prevailed in 1178 BC, the Egyptians lost their holdings in Syria-Palestine and much of their land in Nubia. Although the mightiest of the Late Bronze Age nations survived, Egypt would never again reach the same level of influence.

In the final stage, PCs might witness the aftermath of the Sea Peoples' invasion, focusing on a diminished Egypt and the reshaping of the political landscape. Their roles may involve uncovering hidden truths, navigating the political intrigues of a fragmented world, or working towards restoring stability amidst the ruins. PCs will have the opportunity to influence the fate of nations and shape the future as new powers emerge from the ashes.

From the early stages of climate change to the final remnants of shattered civilizations, a Sea Peoples campaign is an opportunity to reshuffle your campaign world's powers. Whether as survivors, diplomats, warriors, or rebuilders, PC choices and actions can determine the fate of nations and leave an indelible mark on their world.
 
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Michael Tresca

Michael Tresca

Zardnaar

Legend
I wasn't even really just thinking about slavery, although that's certainly a potential issue. I was more thinking about the fact that when they talk about "destroyed cities" they are talking about genocide. Plus the whole Colonialist parallels going on here as well - you have an invader, regardless of whether the invaders are "good" or "bad", who are going to utterly wipe out entire civilizations. From a modern perspective, that can get awfully uncomfortable. If you're playing the invaders, you are actively participating in this. If you are playing the defenders, you have to accept that you are going to lose.

Now, again, I'm totally fine with this. I'm not saying it shouldn't be played or there's no value or it's offensive or anything like that. Totally not. I'm just saying that the DM who wants to run this REALLY needs to be extra careful here. There's some really big potential landmines buried here that can result in all sorts of very pissed off people.

Tbf we don't actually know who destroyed the cities, why they were destroyed. Some were burnt for example was that an army, revolt, out of control fire etc.

From memories at university I think Greeks are prime contenders for the sea people or at least some of them.
 

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Historical events are a great inspiration for DM.
I make world building for my own fun! Most of my adventures don’t cover that much space and time. But I like to place it in a wide world.
I like very much historical events, sometime they go even further than what I would found reasonable for a fantasy world! In this case kingdoms collapsing can be a wonder to place adventures.

For Slavery I would say that the DM is the only One in charge for what he depict or not into his adventure and world. Using inspiration from historical events don’t force you to include things you don’t want in your game.
 

Hussar

Legend
Historical events are a great inspiration for DM.
I make world building for my own fun! Most of my adventures don’t cover that much space and time. But I like to place it in a wide world.
I like very much historical events, sometime they go even further than what I would found reasonable for a fantasy world! In this case kingdoms collapsing can be a wonder to place adventures.

For Slavery I would say that the DM is the only One in charge for what he depict or not into his adventure and world. Using inspiration from historical events don’t force you to include things you don’t want in your game.
Oh absolutely. Like I said, this is a potential problem, but not an insolvable one. My advice would be to be really upfront with the players before diving into a campaign like this. How historical are we going to be? Is it Ren-Faire romantic history where most of the atrocities are very far in the background and not really talked about at all? Or is it going to be rigorously faithful? Or somewhere in the middle?

I mean, the notion of elves invading from elsewhere and setting up camp in the setting is a fairly well trod path in a lot of settings and genre fiction which can work for this sort of thing. Endlessly interesting IMO. Just something to be a bit cautious about.
 

BookTenTiger

He / Him
Oh absolutely. Like I said, this is a potential problem, but not an insolvable one. My advice would be to be really upfront with the players before diving into a campaign like this. How historical are we going to be? Is it Ren-Faire romantic history where most of the atrocities are very far in the background and not really talked about at all? Or is it going to be rigorously faithful? Or somewhere in the middle?

I mean, the notion of elves invading from elsewhere and setting up camp in the setting is a fairly well trod path in a lot of settings and genre fiction which can work for this sort of thing. Endlessly interesting IMO. Just something to be a bit cautious about.
Also if this is using D&D rules, then all sorts of magics are going to replace historic industries. An army of unseen servants could raise the walls of a city. Trading routes could pass through other planes of existence.

The OP mentioned that the Sea People could be krakens, so there's no need to hew too closely to historic realities.
 

Aldarc

Legend
Just for the record, I'm a Sea Person, and if I can be honest with you here, we were just bored. I still remember how it got started.

Me: If I've got to pull one more net full of sardines out of the Mediterranean, I'm going to kill the next Kemetian or Hittite I see.

Belshazzar: You're big talk, Mr. Tough Guy. You couldn't even stay awake for a week knowing immortality was the prize. There! You see? There's Kussara right there! Go kill your Hittite, big man, or shut up and finish up with those sardines.

I would have finished with the sardines too. But Enheduanna was there. She was sitting there in her wool skirt, gold and silver bracelets jangling as she played with the water. Was she attractive? To put it mildly, she frightened cattle. But she knew how to brew a mean batch of beer and as her father owned many oxen, sheep, and grew fine wheat her dowery was quite large which made her attractive. Anyway, I'm losing my train of thought here. To the decendants in Egypt, Mycenae, and those Caananites I apologize. Phoenecians? I'll never forgive you for your alphabet.
Phoenicians didn’t invent the alphabet; technically, the Greeks did. The Canaanites (Phoenicians) used an abjad writing system, which is composed entirely of consonants, a few of which acting as vowel-like consonants. The Greeks took the Canaanite writing system and turned some of their consonants - especially their voiceless, guttural, and partial vowel consonants - and turned them into vowels while adding a few new consonants of their own.

The More You Know Kitty GIF
 

Yaarel

He Mage
when they talk about "destroyed cities" they are talking about genocide.
Not necessarily genocide.

The ancient "cities" are about the size of a football stadium. In modern terms, we would think of them as government centers.

The general population lived outside the "cities" on farms.

Defeating a military unit in a "city" often has little to do with the daily life of the families living elsewhere.
 

The way to run this is in a fantasy world with elves, dwarves, etc.

Use Green Ronin's Hamunaptra and Bronze Age sourcebook settings.

Player characters are all elves.

Add a dash of Pendragon.

Do it adventure path style. Every 4 to 6-session adventure is about 20 years or so after the previous, at another pivotal point in the collapse of human civilization. About eight adventures all told, 40 sessions or so, maybe a year of play.

The PCs, being elves, see the big picture. They seek to preserve human civilization. Most likely most elves don't care, or some even seek to help bring it down, so they are generally on their own. The elves might deal with once youthful human allies who have grown elderly, eventually with the children and descendants of human allies.

The setup of each adventure depends upon the successes and failures of the previous. Help one human city survive a famine, they are there to help stop a Sea People invasion in the next adventure. If the PCs fail and the city falls, then the next time the defenders are fewer, the fight harder.

The end game has varying levels of success, from preservation of human civilization all the way to its complete collapse.

Let's say the path works like this:

1: Cataclysm! A volcanic explosion starts a chain reaction of flights of dragons and displacement of nature spirits that results in famine and pestilence. The PCs know of ancient elven artifacts that can help ameliorate the disasters... But not all of them. Who do they save with the limited resources?

2: Savagery! Descendants of fallen cities on the verge of the region begin migrating, seeking greener pastures. Can the PCs negotiate alliances to build peace? Or will more cities fall in the heartland?

3: Famine! Weather spirits that were put out by migrating demons and dragons have changed the local climate. Can the PCs resolve their differences, perhaps defeat the demons or dragons?

4: Depression! The build up of problems have destroyed the economy across the region. Cities collapse in internal dissent. Can the PCs help keep the cities together? Maybe help rebuild trade?

5: War! Not all cities were saved. Not all kingdoms remained peaceful. New grasping lords seek to take advantage of the growing chaos. Can the PCs stop them?

6: Chaos! The kingdoms on the borders collapse. More Sea Peoples invade. The Great Kingdoms are endangered. Can the PCs bring unity to the different factions in time to stop the barbarians at the gates?

7: Barbarians! The periphery has fallen. The center did not hold. Many kingdoms lay in ruin. Barbarians squat amidst the ruins. Can the PCs save the remaining Points of Light before Darkness Falls?

8: Collapse! The Last Battle is at hand. The Great Kingdoms have crumbled. Barbarians are everywhere. There is one last remaining Point of Light (or maybe a few more, if the PCs have had great success). Can it spark a fire that will burn bright enough in the Darkness? Or will human civilization fall into complete savagery... It is up to the PCs and the alliances they can build and resources they can bring to bear...
 
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Zardnaar

Legend
Not necessarily genocide.

The ancient "cities" are about the size of a football stadium. In modern terms, we would think of them as government centers.

The general population lived outside the "cities" on farms.

Defeating a military unit in a "city" often has little to do with the daily life of the families living elsewhere.

Kind of. Archeologists gravitated towards monumental architecture. Basically the prioritized the cbd. Basically palace complex, temples, Citadel things like that.

The general population lived around the palace complex then you had the farmland.
 

I've run campaigns in this time period (using GURPS and BRP). I advise anyone interested to take a look at Eric Cline's 1177 BC which is a great book in and of itself, as well as Dodson's Amarna Sunset. The specific time during Akhenaten's rule is especially interesting (and well documented) thanks to the Amarna Letters, which have also been compiled in a nice volume by William Moran with a lot of analysis. These are the clay communications preserved at el-Amarna, the modern day archaeological site of Akhetaten, the city which briefly served as Akhenaten's spiritual capitol when he decided to make a break from the traditional theocratic bureaucracy of Egypt at the time. They provide roughly 30 years of details communications between Egyptian and regional leaders, providing some really interesting insight into life from the perspective of the ruling class at that time, as well as loads of interesting plot hooks if you want to set games in this time period. When people say much of what we know of the sea people comes from Egypt, its actually the references in these surviving letters they are referring to. You can also read about the problems of collecting tribute, issues of political wrangling and posturing, assassinations, plagues, and other debacles of the day.
 

Tbf we don't actually know who destroyed the cities, why they were destroyed. Some were burnt for example was that an army, revolt, out of control fire etc.

From memories at university I think Greeks are prime contenders for the sea people or at least some of them.
Greece was subject to waves of invasion and integration. The Pelasgians were overrun by the Mycenaeans, and in turn the sea peoples likely overran and integrated with the Myceneans, who were effectively gone by 1100 BC to be replaced/transformed into the more "contemporary" Greeks such as the hellenes.

Depending on the sites there may be archaeological clues as to who did what, and when, but the key take-away is that the late bronze age saw a dramatic uptick of this violence and destruction in a relatively short period of time, followed by a seismic shift in rulership and cultures across the entirety of the Mediterranean. Perfect time to set historical adventures, I have always felt.
 

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