View Full Version : D&D in the Greek Heroic Age

2016-05-15, 06:32 PM
Hi everyone, I'm Gilda. One of my players, LeightheDwarf, created an account here, so I have too. :)

I thought I'd introduce the campaign I run. It's set in the early days of Greek mythology, when Cadmus came from Asia to found Thebes and the acropolis of Athens was a castle ruled by snake-men (eg the Cecropidae, Erichthonius). I'm using primary sources (Homer, Diodorus Siculus) for chronology and the fantasy elements and modern, archaeology-based sources to fill in the details. For example, King Egyptus from Greek mythology (brother of the culture hero Danaus) is Ahmose who reunified Egypt, which makes this about 65 years after the Hittites sacked Babylon.

It's a sandbox campaign and I'm treating the plains of Mesopotamia, the majority of the Levant, Egypt and Crete as civilized hexes. Greece itself, where the PCs have been active, has more of a Wild West feel with supernatural elements (so think Conan). Here's a big picture overview of places that PCs can access from the Mediterranean coast:

Peoples of the Great Green Sea

The land of the Nile, from the first cataract to the sea, is believed by its people to be the oldest civilization. They point to 1500-year-old tombs housing the mummies of kings who ruled a unified kingdom, while to this day there are places near the Great Green's coast where barbaric villages coexist with monsters. They are a pious people and their king is high priest of all their gods save Horus, whose avatar he is seen as. Long a peaceful people who relied on border fortresses for security, they have become more militant in the decades that King Kamose and his successor Ahmose have warred to expel the foreign rulers from the delta.

The people of the western desert are generally nomadic shepherds, moving in family groups where every adult male is a bowman. Living in harsh conditions, these bands have raided Kemet's western border from time immemorial, and are seen in Kemet as minions of the evil god Seth. In actuality, their shamans worship supernatural beings unknown to civilization. The fishing villages of the desert coast are peopled by the same group, but are sometimes less warlike.
Libu are fair-skinned, and both men and women wear cloaks of dyed wool or hide with only a male groin guard underneath. Hair is kept long and confined by a leather band, in which feathers are worn as status symbols.

Lotus Eaters
Crossing the desert coast, you eventually reach the port of the Lotus Eaters. This is the edge of a fertile district where the lotuses used in magic grow abundantly. This tribe is dependent on the lotus trade for all their luxuries, yet many have become addicted and only use lotuses themselves rather than trading. They have no warrior class and are only known to fight for jealousy of the lotuses.

Kanana, from which the foreign rulers invaded the Nile delta, stretches northeast from the border of Kemet. The Semitic natives are organized into city-states that dot the coast, each supported by a fishing industry and section of rich agricultural plain that transitions to more arid inland hills. Semitic shepherds, called Amurru or Murtu, annually bring wool and animal sacrifices from the hill country to urban temples. Their clerics mediate between farmers and shepherds and between people in general and the gods. Several Kananite cults have spread to Avaris and the Nile delta with the foreign rulers, with their usual human sacrifice repressed. The clergy facilitate stability and trade even when kings are killed by adventurers.
The greatest city-state in Kanana is Gubal, which maintains a fleet and has traded with Kemet for 1500 years.
Men wear striped kilts with or without a short one-shoulder tunic, or only a long tunic, and are always bearded. Women wear the long tunic, or short with a tiered skirt.

Amurru Coast
Kanana's northern border can be defined as the kilometer-high mountain Labu in the hill country, whose springs are the source of the north-flowing river Arantu. The river is unnavigable, and north-south traffic goes on foot through the fertile valley. Fords serve as strategic routes between the coast and civilizations of the east, and city-states have grown up around them. Most Amurru settlements are controlled by the coastal city of Ugarit. Ugarit has been a maritime power for 400 years and its royal dynasty boasts of being the first civilized Amurru, a claim disputed in Assur far to the east.

North of Amurru, the coastline forms a cape and turns sharply west. The well-watered coastal plain extends deep inland, mixed with rolling hills before giving way to mountains. What land isn't farmed serves as pasture for the country's many horses. Generations ago, Kizzuwatna was conquered by the inland kingdom of Nesa. Nesa's control collapsed 40 years ago, and the aging first king of independent Kizzuwatna is anxious to secure a dynasty.

Luwi & Luka
Beyond Kizzuwatna, as far as the coast runs east-west, is a narrow fertile district separated from the interior by a mountain range. The people, called variously Luwi or Luka, live in tribal villages that eke out an existence among chimerae and other monsters. Sometimes a hero will slay a monster menacing many villages and weld them into a chiefdom. These tribes say they emigrated over many generations from the interior, where other Luwi and the kindred Nesalu have cities.
Men wear short sleeved tunics with separate kilts, women full length wrap skirts. Wool mantles are worn as needed, and unlike other peoples, their footwear consists of boots with upturned toes.

Alashiya is a large island south of Luwi land with a finger-shaped peninsula pointing northeast. Most of its towns are either ports or copper mines.
Both sexes wear only a loincloth and jewelry, with heavy travelling sandals if needed. Wives and daughters of the elite wear bracelets and anklets all the way up to their elbows and knees. All the ports share the goddess of love as their patron. At her annual festival, couples from inland come to renew their vows and exchange tools and jewelry made from copper mined during the year for trade goods.

Keftiu, called Kaptara in Semitic languages, is a long narrow island controlled by three cities, Gnossos, Faistos and Mallia. Each city-state is administered from a labyrinthine palace whose prince is as much merchant prince as governor and the princess is high priestess of a chthonic goddess cult. The three princes's ship captains are the most respected traders on the Great Green, but the mysteries celebrated in the palaces are rumored to involve human sacrifice.
Men wear a tightly-belted loincloth and sandals and keep their curly hair long. Women dress their hair like men and wear an open-breasted, tight-waisted bodice with either a long wrap skirt for the lower orders or a structured hoop skirt for the elite.

West of the Luka land and east of Keftiu, the coast turns north. This stretch of land, from the headwaters of its small rivers to the sea, is called Assuwa. South of the deep, unnavigable Mira River, cities are limited to the coast, with the interior part of Luka land. The coastal city of Apasa controls most of the Mira valley, while each of the more northerly rivers is divided between several states. All are peopled by a group called the Ludi. Near the north end of the sea, there are narrow straits leading to the unknown Black Sea. Both sides of the straits and their hinterlands are controlled by the city of Wilusa, a strategic site founded 150 years ago on the ruins of five more ancient cities to control the flow of exotic goods from the far north.

Just north of the straits, the coast turns west before a peninsula juts south. The north shore is home to the Bryges, who are pastoralists with wagons and chariots.

Part of the peninsula belongs to the followers of Amphictyon son of Deucalion and his nephews, the warlords Aeolos, Xuthos and Doros. Their people are red-haired pastoralists who travel with their families in wagons and fight in chariots, raiding cattle from natives and claiming native settlements by their spear arm. These form the two topics of their bards.

Barbaric natives whose economic condition has been raised by centuries of trade with Keftiu. They have three cities, Tiryns in the south, Kekropia in the north, and Sikyon between and to the west, but their priests know not writing.
The northern Pelasgi, from Mount Parnassa down the Kiphissa valley and around Lake Kopais to the north Euboean gulf, are called Minyans and their chief town is Orchomenos north of Lake Kopais. The Pelasgi of the far southeast are called Lulahi and are closely related to a tribe of the same name in Assuwa.
Pelesgi are related to the Luka, and their appearance is a mix of Luka and Keftic styles.

Near the island of Korkyra west of the mainland, there is a strait rendered impassable by the monster Otranto. West of the strait are two mountainous, forested peninsulas separated by a gulf. This land is populated by the Shekelesh, a warlike people divided into independent villages. They have few exports besides timber, and to acquire bronze tools, some young men go as far as serving as mercenaries abroad and coming home around 30 to marry and beat their swords into plowshares.
The people say that west beyond this peninsula is a wealthy island where the villages are dominated by magicians dwelling in stone towers.

Separated from Shekelesh land by a narrow strait, rendered impassable by the monsters Scylla and Charybdis, is an island larger than Alashiya. Here dwell cyclopes and other monsters, and the human inhabitants are unusually tall. They are divided into many chiefdoms, each with a chief's town of 1-3 thousand and many tributary villages. The Laestrygones are known to eat strangers.
Beyond the western end of this island, southeasterly winds blow perpetually, which along with sea monsters drive travelers back to the Libu desert.

2016-05-17, 01:14 AM
I'm curious, since you haven't mentioned players. is this going to be a campaign journal or more of a world building/describing situation?

I'm also curious how much godly influence there is going to be in this world, since you mention homer, and how you handle that.

2016-05-17, 09:05 AM
I like it.

A couple of things could be useful.

The first is that sanctuaries were probably already there in this time. I think of Delphoi and the Heraion of Samos; I am not sure about Olympia.

The second is that Cadmos' wedding was the last time men and gods sat together at a ceremony.

2016-05-17, 12:35 PM
One thing that can really help with immersion is common rituals.

In ancient Greece, if someone invites you into their home there is a series of events that follows including washing your feet, inviting you to recline on a couch in the atrium, etc. Be sure to verbally walk through these steps every time the characters are invited into a home. The repetition is important as it establishes the central essence of the culture.

And it is a great set-up for that one time when they visit a house and the host skips something, or just has them come in and start discussing business. This will be a sure clue that the person who owns the house is not right with the gods.

Breaking hospitality (harming a guest), killing someone within the family, drinking unwatered wine, invoking the gods' names incorrectly...all of these will be fun clues for your players to draw from - making them feel as if they can depend on the rules of the world.

Our GM did this for a Trojan War (Green Ronin) campaign that was absolutely fabulous. Once, we were invited into someone's house and they tricked us into eating human meat. Even though we didn't know till later - we still had to make things right with the gods. It was then that we thought back and realized that the host never offered to wash our feet when we visited.

2016-05-18, 11:05 AM
@wobner: This is the D&D campaign I've been running since January. We currently have three players: a Bard from the Lotus Eaters, a Cleric of Apollo and a Barbarian/Ranger from the marshes of Lulahi land (the future Laconia).

There's a lot of godly influence. Demeter, Athena and Apollo have appeared as NPCs. I've asked the players if they feel railroaded by such powerful NPCs, and their answer is no.

@Vinyadan: The Oracle at Delphi has been the fulcrum of this campaign. Apollo killed Python at the start, and dealing with rededicating and staffing the shrine and the fallout from Gaia-worshipers has been our Cleric's main plot.
As far as I can tell, the Heraion of Samos didn't exist in the Bronze Age. I am using the Heraion of Argos at the port of Nauplia.

The wedding of Kadmos is an upcoming subplot. :)

@Democratus: Oh wow, that's a lot of stuff about hospitality I haven't been using! Thank you. So far I've only been using inviting in, sharing bread and salt and mixed wine, and never being able to harm someone you've had a guest-host relationship with.
Also there was a random encounter with a centaur who set his host's thatched hut on fire because he thought serving him mixed wine violated xenia.

2016-05-19, 01:34 PM
I like it! It sounds like you are keeping completely in the Mythology/ Legends/ history of the Greeks without any of your typical fantasy RPG elements (Elves, Orcs, Dragons, etc). Just out of curiosity:

What rules system are you using? It sounds like you are using D&D.

Are you only allow humans or are you allow other races? If you allow other races, what are they and are they homebrewed? If you don't, are you giving human's different advantages based on where they are from? Example: Spartans, because of the Agoge get a Strength bonus while Athenians because of their higher education standards get a, Intelligence bonus.

Just curious. I have thought about doing an Ancient Greece campaign.

2016-05-19, 05:35 PM
What sort of research did you do for weapons and armor?

Any sources you can share?