Wednesday, 28 January 2015

The Alexis Smolensk Challenge, World 2 of 3

The Kingdom of Ebrauc

Ebrauc and surrounding kingdoms, shown within what is now the North Riding of Yorkshire

This small but cosmopolitan domain is nestled between the North Pennines and the Anglic Kingdom of Deira, with the Bryton kingdoms of Bryneich and Rheged to the north and Elmet to the south. During the Roman occupation Ebrauc, and particularly the fortress settlement of Eboracum (also called Cair Ebrauc) served as the northern capital of Roman rule in Albion. Since then it has been occupied by various surrounding tribes while maintaining a blend of Roman culture; the population is now largely Bryton and Angle, with a significant Roman minority. The common language remains Aenglisc, though Cumbric and Common Brittanic speakers abound, and there is sigificant use of Latin among Romans and Christian clergy of all tribes. 

Most of the people are Pagan, but particularly in Ebrauc there is a mingling of different faiths, including that of the Druids, most of whom are connected to the Picts in the northern regions. Assigning a specific year to the campaign is not necessary, as dates would have been in reference to local events. At any rate, this is several centuries before the emperor Constantine would help popularise the belief that Jesus the Christ had been an actual historical figure and back-counted the years since he must have lived; at this point, he is still seen as a symbol and metaphor, so there is no concept of BC and AD. (Christian holidays are few, and the Pagan traditions later appropriated by the church are extant in something closer to their original forms.)

At the start of the game, border skirmishes with Deira are common, and negotiations have changed the eastern several times in recent history. Ostensibly, the lords of both realms wish to maintain an amicable trading relationship, and have thus far sought to avoid all-out war. Indeed, trading arrangements are of much mutual benefit, as Ebrauc manufactures weapons and jewelry of famous quality, and Deira produces excellent ships as well as salt and other commodities. 

For the initial impetus, the aging cyning of Ebrauc had one of his thegns collect a party of stout-hearted young men to look for a group of tally-keepers that had failed to return from their rounds through the realm. The six young men (I had each player take on two characters each, because most of our players failed to show up that day) walked from Eboracum to Isurium to Beodlamh to Deruentoine, where they were told the tally-keepers should have gone back to Eboracum. The party were waylayed by some locals in trouble, and when we finished the session, the party had just discovered some muddy horse tracks leading into the river, which they were about to cross into the foggy Wolds of Deira in pursuit of the attackers. 

As the weather spreadsheet shows, fog is going to reduce visibility and interfere with combat a goodly portion of the time. This was the first serious fog of the four days of game time that made up this session, but the party spent a lot of the rest of the time getting rained on, trudging through mud, fording rivers in cowhide shoes, and generally having lots of opportunities for foot fungus, to which even a paladin isn't immune. Aside from that, the landscape presented less of an obstacle than in the previous setting, and as the party had a charismatic lyre-playing son of a thegn with them, they were able to secure free lodging and a meal in different villages. (The rest of the characters were either of the ceorl, or propertied 'middle' class, or geburs, owning no land at all.) Perhaps this made things unduly easy for the party, but then, as only their second experience in a world without alchemy, mood-altering substances, armour, crossbows or even longbows, I thought I should mitigate the bleak abject misery just a tad. I explained to everyone at the beginning that the intrinsic violence in the society was such that they should consider every man they meet as a first-level fighter by default; somehow, they judiciously avoided confrontation throughout the session. 

From my perspective as DM, I felt this session was much less successful than the one we played in the ancient Greek world. The general consensus from the players afterwards was that they preferred the other world slightly, but didn't dislike this one. I thought at first I was just depressed by the poor turnout, but I realised that I really hadn't put as much work into this one. I hadn't even decided the locations of most of the settlements, let alone their industries, geographical features, and other things of potential interest; all of which I had done in detail for Minoa. The map above shows just the first pass through. Some of these are represented by settlements still remaining in some form today, which provides some hints as to what they might have been like; the rest have to be improvised out of incomplete accounts, folklore, and my own demented imagination. 

This just shows that I still have a boatload of work to do.

All in all, I was dispirited at my own lack of intimate knowledge of the setting, and it looks like I'll have to put the medieval world on hold and just take another two weeks to completely prepare the Ebrauc environment.


The History Files: Ebrauc

Historical fiction author Richard Dennings

Good ol' Wikipedia: Archaeological sites in North Yorkshire

David Nash Ford's Early British Kingdoms

Yorkshire topography map


  1. This is very inspiring stuff here, Xenos. Alexis' book made me think, more than anything else, that I have been a very, very lazy DM all these years. It gives me hope and confidence that I can put those ideas into practice seeing you go through it from the very beginning. Your Minoan Crete idea is very similar to an idea I am batting around, which would be to base my own world on Sardinia circa 200 BC. . . so please keep up your work as it makes a lot of sense watching yours unfold. Well done!

    1. I'd look forward to reading that if you do go through with it (not that I don't enjoy looking at your hand-painted miniatures). For me, perhaps the most rewarding part of trying all these different settings is getting a clearer idea of why things were the way they were at different points in history, which also sheds light on why certain things are the way they are today.