mythic alt-historical realism: setting & source material

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dav
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Re: mythic alt-historical realism: setting & source material

Post by dav » 17 Jun 2017, 08:48

I've spent a few hours poring over Wikipedia and I think I've found an interesting idea ...

http://www.historytoday.com/richard-cav ... -forkbeard

Svein Forkbeard was the first Scandinavian king of England – a Viking conqueror – but lived only a few weeks after taking the throne before dying mysteriously. Thereafter Æthelred the Unready (as his moniker suggests, an unloved king: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C3%86the ... on_of_1013 ) returned from his exile in Normandy, for a second brief rest on the throne.

What if we drop the players into the middle of all that, on the Chistmas of 1013 – the day of Svein's coronation ... in the employ of a militant holy order which cannot suffer England to be ruled by a heathen. As a bonus wrinkle, let's have the players aligned with a minor noble house, which could not suffer Æthelred's return – and soon to be tasked with the murder of Svein, Danish King of England, by the church.

This is a slightly different England though – one in which the Church has not been so successful in eradicating Celtic Paganism or converting the Norsemen, and where the unification of the Heptarchy (hmm seven kingdoms, where have I heard that before?) is tenuous at best. Druids still perform human sacrifices under the moonlight. Vikings have the entire country by the throat, and the barony are on the brink of open revolt should Æthelred, the strongest English claimant, return. Suspicions of witchcraft and devil worship run deep, even in Christian lands.

Throw in a bunch of those ideas previously mentioned about the Alfar plotting with cultists to bring back the plague, etc ... what do you think - does this have legs?
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Agamemnon
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Re: mythic alt-historical realism: setting & source material

Post by Agamemnon » 17 Jun 2017, 12:44

dav wrote:This is a slightly different England though – one in which the Church has not been so successful in eradicating Celtic Paganism or converting the Norsemen, and where the unification of the Heptarchy (hmm seven kingdoms, where have I heard that before?) is tenuous at best. Druids still perform human sacrifices under the moonlight. Vikings have the entire country by the throat, and the barony are on the brink of open revolt should Æthelred, the strongest English claimant, return. Suspicions of witchcraft and devil worship run deep, even in Christian lands.
Celtic paganism was one of the things the church did a decent job in eradicating early on. If in your setting there are still druids, then there's a pretty good chance that portions of the native population is also practicing their pagan traditions as well. This is doubly true as you get out into the country where the church might not have as watchful an eye. The Saxons (among others) practiced a Germanic paganism that would have been recognizable to the Norse. The names are changed a bit (Wotan v. Odin) but they were familiar enough that anyone from their world would have recognized them as being the same.

This would actually change the dynamic of the viking conquests and things a bit. One of the bigger themes in the period is that the Norse would have been scary outsiders explicitly because being pagans they might as well have been demons themselves. If we assume that there is a significant pagan portion of the population, then the Christians are going to be used to dealing with pagans to some degree. Rather than the vikings being demoniac outsiders, they are just foreign pagans who are like any other group of raiders or any other army. The natives also have some interesting conflicts. For the pagans, the Norse would likely be their co-religionists. Pagan Saxons and the like who wanted to resist the Christianizing of their world would have good reason to ally with the Norse. Meanwhile, Christian natives might turn on their neighbors and treat them as scapegoats or even suspect them of collusion with the enemy.
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dav
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Re: mythic alt-historical realism: setting & source material

Post by dav » 18 Jun 2017, 00:19

Thanks Agamemnon, that's some insightful stuff to chew on.

That begs some questions about where the borders are, how much christian lands are tainted with paganism, and how connected ethnicity and religious practice is.

One of the tricks is resolving the depth of christian religious sentiment in medieval england with existence alongside other religions. There might be a nation-state (I'm thinking perhaps the Welsh) which were never converted, and within whose borders standing stones are erected instead of churches; we could expect a very long and bloody history of military conflict with this pagan state, locked in a protracted stalemate (because guerilla tactics / sorcerous defenses / other reasons which merit further exploration).

Crypto-paganism is another angle – followers of the old religion (mixed with various flavours of occultism) within christian lands, who feign christian piety to their neighbors and risk a brutal death at the hands of witch-hunters. Perhaps they do this in return for sorcerous powers, and this streak of corruption runs deep through the nobility and the Church itself (which seems faintly reminiscent of the taint of Chaos in Warhammer's setting).

The recent conquest of England by Vikings might also herald a new flowering of Norse paganism: reversing the conversion of the Scandinavians, we see Svein hold on to his Nordic religion (and, for the time being, his life) and imposes it on the christian people of England, tearing down (or simply murdering) the clergy and reclaiming their wealth, influence, cathedrals and monasteries ... exactly how this might play out is unclear to me, as I'd expect strong resistance from the entire populace, but there are plenty of precedents of it happening the other way (conversion of a king to christianity, followed by it cascading down through a population). It does seem filled with dramatic potential.

None of these need be mutually exclusive. I'm inclined to want to differentiate Celtic from Norse paganism sufficiently that, while Christians might see them as equivalent, they themselves are in some ways opposed – that give us three competing religious ideologies.

We've also got a number of hostile factions one the macro level (Danes, Anglo-Saxons, Normans, Welsh, Irish, Scots); within the English lands a number of uneasily unified kingdoms; and within each of those, a scheming equilibrium of noble houses and inter-familial violence.

Random thought: I wonder if the Alfar of the Norse might actually be the same angels that sometimes appear to Christians? If in this world the Ljósálfar do exist, and they're as amoral as I'm thinking, playing as celestial double agents seems entirely believable.
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Re: mythic alt-historical realism: setting & source material

Post by Benedict » 18 Jun 2017, 00:57

dav wrote:We've also got a number of hostile factions one the macro level (Danes, Anglo-Saxons, Normans, Welsh, Irish, Scots); within the English lands a number of uneasily unified kingdoms; and within each of those, a scheming equilibrium of noble houses and inter-familial violence.
You beat me to it. :D

Yes, you have all of them. And more. Anglo-saxons in this era were not Anglo-saxons yet. There were Britons (the conquered Celts) and Saxons, Angles, and Jutes (the conquering Germans) at around 600, plus Scotts and Welsh. By 1000 the populations were not homogenous. If you have the time read atleast the first chapter of Ivanhoe by W. Scott and you'll see what I'm talking about. True, its roughly 100 years later than the age you chose, still it illustrates fairly well the divisions of the people at that time.

Add Picts to this (another Scottish group with language, myths, and traditions of their own). Add Jews to the mix (yes, there were Jews in Albion at that time; the first written record of a Jewish settlement dates from 1070)) and you have something like atleast nine opposed sides in one way or another.
dav wrote:None of these need be mutually exclusive. I'm inclined to want to differentiate Celtic from Norse paganism sufficiently that, while Christians might see them as equivalent, they themselves are in some ways opposed – that give us three competing religious ideologies.
Imo you should seperate them. Because they were different in many ways, plus it gives opportunities for conflicts.

And a thought. If you do create fantastical creatures, namely Ljosalfar/Alfar and Svartalfar/Skraelig, you should seriously consider about incorporating locals too: Fomorians and Sídhe sound like a good start.
Agamemnon wrote:It's got the names changed a bit (Albion instead of England)
Well, Albion is one of the names of the central island, even if its rarely used nowadays. ;)
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Re: mythic alt-historical realism: setting & source material

Post by dav » 18 Dec 2017, 09:36

So as it turns out I've been running a campaign I'm so far really happy with, but – it's 5e D&D (albeit run with certain strong opinions) because that's the ruleset my players new. And I've been running it largely async using Slack.

But I mostly wanted to point out how good http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/112 ... -for-a-Day is, and would be for a Sword and Scoundrel game.

It's a setting agnostic Anglo-Saxon flavoured horror sandbox campaign, with a lot of historical detail and plenty of material for a DM to work with. I'm not using it directly, but I'm borrowing liberal sprinkles from it and there's a lot there to mine. Great value, would totally run it as written with S&S.

Go buy it!
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