Friday, July 15, 2011

Age of Stone and Bone - Prehistoric Fantasy

For a long time now I have wanted to create a fantasy RPG campaign set in a still evolving fantasy world. In this world the familiar fantasy tropes would still be there but in a less refined, earlier interpretation placed along side familiar concepts from our own prehistoric world, much as most fantasy settings are set along familiar medieval/dark ages concepts. It would be a savage, primal world full of primitive monsters, some familiar, other unique to this evolving world.

One of the themes I wanted to play with was the mixing of earthly evolutionary concepts and fantastic elements. Just as the animals and beings of our world evolved from earlier creatures, so to have the creatures and being found in this setting. Different ages have come and gone, with the natural magical energies of the world altering the creatures beyond natural evolution. To this end, many of the more magical creatures began as relatively mundane creatures who were then fused with other creatures, given new abilities, or new forms.

Overall, I have many of the basic concepts worked out, though the specifics still need refining and systems developed. I've gone ahead and shared some of the concepts below -

Magic is an elemental force, just like earth, wind, fire, etc.. It flows and blows through the world. In some places it collects and pools or is locked into other elements. It changes those is stays in contact with for long periods of time and can transform the mundane into the magical.

In many respects the quest for magical energies and their mastery mirrors the real world "quest for fire" when our early ancestors sought to control what, to them, was a very magical and special force that is now taken for granted, much in the same way that magic is often taken for granted in fantasy settings.

Very few of the races of this world have learned how to manipulate magical energies in way that would seem familiar to a traditional fantasy world dweller. There are no spell books, scrolls or tomes. Most magic that is used comes in the form of talismans, magically imbued creature parts that have either been preserved or that retain their magical abilities for a limited time once removed from the parent creature.

The Age of Stone and Bone is a world before gods and extra-planar beings meddling in the world. That is not to say it is without religion, but what there is takes the form of early forms of ancestral worship, totemism, animism, folk energies, or cults. All of these draw from a subconscious focus of the magical energies of the world, coalescing them into powerful foci.

Spirits of the land and of place may manifest through these powers, coming into being through the mingling of belief, magical and elemental energies. Belief in the power of one's great heroes may draw their spiritual energies into a form that can grant some manner of protection or blessing upon people. These same mingling energies might create a place where "things" happen - a healing grove, a cursed pool, etc..

In the more settled regions, where there are enough people believing the same thing, the world is seeing the beginnings of more conventional religion. These cults are bringing the first true gods into being or tapping into existing powers drawn into this world through sheer power of desire.

Why do dragons get special mention? Well, that is because dragons are central to the history of this setting. Not only are they part of the historical background and plot of the world, they are also one of the greatest examples of the magical evolution of the world as well as one of the few species to master magic.

Just as in our world, dinosaurs once walked this world. Unlike our world, they did not disappear to such a degree. While most of them died out or were pushed to remote places in the world, some transformed into the great dragons, amassing profound power and skill with magic. At the high point of their evolution, dragons ruled over an age of reptiles where lizard men and other saurian species terrorized one another as well as the developing mammals.

It is the dragons that are responsible for the creation of the elves and dwarfs and it their absence that has allowed mankind to expand throughout the world.

A general theme for this setting is that all things are somehow less refined and more savage and primal. Dire versions of animals are common and even monsters are somehow more "prehistoric' in their depiction. Their horns may be more massive. They may have tusks or horns they normally do not have. Coats are shaggier and bodies bulkier for the most part.

But the world is primal and savage in other ways. It is a cold world with little in the way to allow the races here a leg up. Agriculture is only possible in the warmest parts of the world with most vegetable food being taken from naturally occurring sources.

Essential to this world remaining stone age is a lack of suitable metal in the world. it is not without metal, but there is so little of it that creating weapons, armor and technology out of it is hard. Only this world's dwarfs have it in enough abundance to use it regularly (more on that later).

Metal will most often be encountered in charms, talismans and as part of those things that take special note in this world. Somebody with metal decorations is likely powerful or potent in some manner perhaps magically or politically.

Though this world is savage and primitive in many respects, it is also a fantasy world and as such there has been plenty of time for its inhabitants to develop and master their environments. The diversity in this world stretches across the spectrum from small bands of hunters and gatherers to massive stone age city states taking advantage of fortunate environments to build stable societies.

One of the best ways to envision this development is to take all stone-age technologies we know of and imagine what they could achieve given time. Massive stone cities built on the backs of men and beast. Other places might be sprawling adobe towns or even villages built from bone or wood. Taking advantage of their environments to aid in defending themselves might lead to exotic habitation on cliff sides and in the trees.

Weapons and protection will also benefit from this mastery. Wicker, wood, even bone can prove of value when your opponents are armed only with stone and bone weapons. I envision many of the fantasy standards done with these stone age technologies. Perhaps a suit of interlocking bone plates or stone halberds.
As you can see this is a world that cannot simply be cookie-cuttered into just any set of rules. There will need to be tweaks and adjustments made to get things to play the way I envision them working in the world. It seems to me that many of the class roles might need to be broadened or even done away with to allow for characters that are entertaining to play but still present themselves in a way consistent with the setting.

In a future blog post, I'll go over how I see the development of the intelligent races of this setting.

Hope you enjoyed a look at my idea for my Age of Stone and Bone campaign setting.

Take care,



  1. I think this sounds like a very unique RPG setting and I am looking forward to reading more about it!

  2. Ral Partha used to make indians on buffalo. Maybe wooly rhinos?

  3. I like where you're going with all of this. Lithic technology of the past still rivals some of the best cutting edges we have today. As for agriculture I'm apt to say throw it out the window altogether in favor of horticulture, maybe just give it to a few of the more earth-savvy races. Yeah, there's a lot I can see with this setting, very cool indeed. I'd recommend FATE for a rule system only because it has given us so much flexibility.

  4. The biggest issues I forsee in making this setting work center around the loose and more incidental nature of magic as opposed to the traditional spell casting seen in other games.

    Much of the magic, as I envision it, takes the form of captured energies that are only semi-control and held on a very temporary basis.

    I am not sure why I should do away with agriculture entirely. In the setting there will be large proto empires where people have gathered where the land can sustain them in large numbers.


  5. Very cool. It reminds me of the ground zero setting of Steve Erikson's Malazan series (which is a work of genius) if you strip out all the classical / medieval layers. Great stuff.

    What are you going to replace the "get heaps of treasure, level up" central mechanic with?

  6. This setting does pose some serious changes in the traditional RPG experience. The isolation of populations will likely mean that the players will all be of the same race and tribe.

    This in itself will allow a shift from treasure and level to a story and accomplishment style of game. Many adventures will likely focus around the needs of the tribe.

  7. This idea is totally up my alley. I would keep some of the knights and castles elements too, just reduced to more urbanized places. I have been reading Harry Harrison's "West of Eden" trilogy that has shares some of your Stone and Bone concepts.

  8. Very interesting. I suggest a good shoulderblade bone halberd. Perhaps made from a rhino? Or dragonbone? Make dragonbone heavy in metallic content, maybe?

  9. Eli- brilliant idea! that first image is positivley inspiring!

  10. Eli- If you want to brainstorm about solutions/systems for your magic, I'd be happy to be your sounding board.
    just ping me offline.

    Oh, and I disagree heartily with Mr. Womack Esq. If there are no gnomes, whom does one harvest for sacrifice!

  11. Stone age Fantasy... very interesting concept... almost makes me wish to roleplay again :)
    Funny - I once elaborated a Setting not at the dawn of civilisation but at "dusk" - when people let go technology, abandon their cities for the wilderness and turn to magic instead of technology and so start the eternal circle of technological civilisation growing, flourishing, waning again...

    Best, Michael

  12. I'd love to ping you offline Thomas, but I do not have any sort of contact ifnormation for you.



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