A few months ago I started thinking about developing a dark ages fantasy setting, either for gaming or for fiction (or both I suppose). Gaming settings tend to be more medieval or renaissance in flavor but I felt there was a lot you could do with a dark ages set-up. Even when I’m doing fantasy, I tend to start with history and/or mythology, so I picked up two books: Roman Britain and Early England 55 BC to AD 871 by Peter Blair and An Age of Tyrants: Britain and the Brions AD 400 to 600 by Christopher A. Snyder. The latter was quite detailed but very dry. Blair’s book wasn’t as focused on what I was interested in but it was more engaging and provided a nice overview. Both did a good job of getting ideas percolating in my head. Originally I had thought of creating a fantasy setting from whole cloth, but I soon became taken with the idea of doing an alternate history Britain in which Christianity had never become more than a small sect. The continent would be there in the background but the setting would really be about the struggle for sub Roman Britain.
Last week I picked up the recent Age of Arthur supplement for the Warhammer Ancient Battles miniatures game. It’s a nice book that summarizes a lot of the material I’ve read about the dark ages and the historical King Arthur with the wargamer in mind. It covers Romanized Britons, Welsh, Scots Irish, Picts, and Saxons, providing many army lists and variants. As one would expect, there’s also photos of beautifully painted miniatures that provide visual stimulation for just the period I’m looking at. I did not pick it up as a research book per se, but it’s really quite useful in developing my ideas. It also makes me want to collect yet more armies, though I think sense will prevail in the end there.
As for the setting itself, I’m not sure if I’m going to move forward with it or not. I had thought it of possible use with 4E if we decide to support the game, but I don’t know if alternate historical fantasy is a great fit with the direction WotC is taking the game. I’ll have to think about it more once I see the new rules.
Have you ever read The Winter King and its follow-ups, by Bernard Cornwell? (Same guy who wrote the Sharpes novels, which I had not previously read. I’ve since picked up Sharpe’s Rifles, which was an OK read, but not nearly as good as The Winter King et al.)
Anyway, they’re Arthurian, though set against the most believable dark ages/AD 480 or so background I’ve ever read. I’ve never really been into this era, but since reading these books I find myself also thinking a lot about a dark ages campaign.
The story gives the Arthur cycle a really nifty spin, and the series is definitely now my favourite treatment of the Arthur myth. But it’s also a great look at the early dark ages. I really recommend them.
I have read The Winter King and I really enjoyed it. I’ve been meaning to finish the trilogy but haven’t gotten around to it yet. I should probably track those down.
It’s a shame this is looking less than likely – it sounds like a great idea. I’ve been considering a dark ages style game recently as well, but I agree – 4e is sounding more and more particular to certain tropes that won’t match well with historical or pseudo historical gaming.
You could always try to get Warhammer Fantasy Role-Play out of GW’s cold, uncaring grip…
Have you read the Chronicles of Prydain lately? They are in a similar vein, but from a more simplified “fairy tale” angle and less historically accurate. I think something like that might make a good introductory setting since many people are familiar with the basics of knights, castles, trolls, etc.
What about doing an adaptation of the system you’re building for the SOIAF game? Maybe see how that does first?