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Lyon: 1350

The place to discuss the setting for the Aeternitas RPG.

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Postby Aeternitas » Sat Aug 24, 2013 9:37 am

There are some pretty obvious questions about our setting. Why France? Why the city of Lyon? Why 1350? I'd like to answer these obvious questions, and some not so obvious, in this article.

When we were looking at a setting for our game we considered a completely fictional environment. Then we laughed a lot because none of us are interested in fantasy gaming environments. To be candid the very thought of reading another fantasy setting, complete with all the trimmings of a bastardized English pseudo-medieval environment, has no appeal at all.

So what is the advantage of gaming in an historical environment rather than a fictional one?

Firstly, right off the bat you get authenticity. Your gaming environment is more immersive because it feels real, and it feels real because the location is real and the period is real. Facts can be checked, and introduced elements can be justified or at least explained.

Secondly, the environment has depth and it has detail. With a fantasy environment, what isn't written doesn't exist -- and the referee who creates runs the risk of a subsequent supplement being incompatible with what they've added. With an historical environment, what isn't included in the gaming environment does exist. The referee is able to source those details as readily as the authors. With a fantasy environment, what is written doesn't have to make sense (and probably won't, with details being taken from the authors understanding of the medieval period and transplanted to a fantasy location without the historical or geographic context). With an historical environment, what is written will always make sense because the context, the history of the location is complete.

So why not London? Or York?

* shudder *

English-language tabletop gaming material is almost exclusively based on medieval England. This is a reflection of the author's education and on the availability of research material (when the author only understands English, the most readily available texts are on locations in England).

With this in mind we made a deliberate decision not to set our game in an English location.

So why France? Why Lyon?

If it's not somewhere in England, but the material is for English-speaking gamers, then the question of where to set the game become one of, "Well, just how alien do you want this environment to be...?" And the answer to this has to be pragmatic. In a sense, the further east you go from England the more material referee and players will have to assimilate before they will be able to play their characters authentically. For example, if the game is set in Istanbul how do you avoid your harem concubine character being essentially the same as your English courtesan character? The way to do it is to have some understanding of court politics and religious teaching and cultural imperatives and so on for both locations. The more you understand the further apart those two characters will be, in spite of the surface similarities.

So we settled on France. Same religion. Similar feudal structure. Different laws. Different cultures. Different peoples.

Lyon was an easy choice, for entirely pragmatic reasons. Lyon was largely independent. It was part of the Holy Roman Empire, where it was on the periphery (and largely left to its own devices). It then became part of France around 1320. By 1350 there are still many people in positions of power who remember the days of independence, which is good from the point of view of political scenarios. In 1320 Lyon wasn't in the top ten French cities by population. By 1450 it is the second largest city in France and an economic powerhouse.

That influx of wealth and population, that prosperity, led to the situation where the city had the money needed to ensure that records were preserved. There is a vast wealth of contemporary material in the municipal archives. We had access to that material for a long period through one of our number who worked at the University in Lyon.

Lyon also met one of our main criteria. We wanted a setting heavily influenced by religion. Our game was to have a strong supernatural theme and so we wanted the church to have influence in the setting. In Lyon, secular rule and spiritual rule are in the hands of the same people. The archbishop of Lyon and the Canons of the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist are also titled Barons -- created so when Lyon became part of France. As such Lyon is quite unique in Western Europe.

Why 1350?

From the perspective of just about anyone in Western Europe the world turned upside down in 1348 when the initial wave of Bubonic Plague swept across Europe. Contemporary estimates put the number of dead at one third of the entire population. They do this not because they relied on census records or hearth tax records but because so many died they assumed that the end-times described in the book of The Revelation of Saint John were coming to pass.

As a result of the Plague there was great upheaval in religious doctrine. It is an interesting time to play a religious character. Just as important, it was a time of great social change. Social structures became far more elastic as the vast numbers of deaths introduced pragmatic changes.

- The Aeternitas RPG team
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