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 AffairsAt 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 DisasterNo 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 BeginsThe 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 DarknessAs 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.