Last night I made a light-hearted comment to someone that my next game project should involve dinosaurs. That got me thinking. I knew I was doomed to take this joke-project seriously. We've all seen the anachronistic images of primitive humans fighting dinosaurs, but could this idea have meat for an actual game? I'm familiar with Og and GURPS Ice-Age but neither is quite what I'm seeing in my head. Before I get too caught up in mechanics I want to nail down my overal concept.
The Stone-Age, particularly the Paleolithic, ends over 10,000 years before the medieval era that inspires more fantasy settings begins. This has impact on everything from technology and society through to even more core concepts such as language and religion. To avoid things being too mind-shattering I'm using a wonderful term wikipedia taught me today as a benchmark. Behavioral Modernity. The short of this is that my societies will follow the nine tweaked guidelines below when considering how primitive they are.
- Some permanent buildings, some temporary.
- Purpose-made stone and bone tools.
- Fishing, group hunting and fruit gathering.
- Long-distance exchange or barter among groups.
- Use of pigment and jewellery for decoration and self-ornamentation.
- Figurative art.
- Game playing and music.
- Burial of dead and basic ritual.
- Some animal domestication.
However, notably I want to keep the tech level below:
- Bows and arrows.
- Agriculture and Animal Husbandry.
I'm imagining the key points of a typical story will feel quite different to fantasy, too. I'm imagining:
- No magic or real focus on earning treasure.
- Significantly tighter focus on a small group and small societies. No wars or huge cities.
- Character advancement through new knowledge and tools rather than strength and skill.
- More focus on survival and acquiring materials and tools.
- Large cultural differences and a sizeable language barrier.
There's been recent talk on the RPGBN concerning historical settings and while I'm not trying to simulate paleolithic life exactly I'm imagining this project as much more of an alternate history than fantasy. The original idea was primitive man fighting dinosaurs, but I think I can do one better than that. I love creating new animals and plants so why not set down my primitive people in a fictional region and fill it with my own creations?
The new creatures and plants will have a grounding in reality, the brilliant Morae River blog being a perfect example of what I'm picturing. A valley would be a good focal point for a region containing a range of societies and creatures but instead I'm thinking a lake. Something about all sorts of life teeming around the coasts of a lake feels right to me. Journeying away from its supply of fish and clean water may be a dangerous undertaking, and perfect subject matter for an RPG. I love the idea of the group of neanderthal-like men climbing over a ridge to come face to face with a creature they've never encountered before.
And so a good starting name for this project has come to me. Stone Lake. Stay tuned for further info.