Bronze Age RPGs

A conversation mentioned on my recent Plundergrounds podcast (episode 14).

Ray: What are your favorite bronze age games, if any?

Chris: First tell me what you mean by 'bronze age', please.

Ray: Historically, pre-iron age? LOL. I realize that it varies by region. I suppose I mean the period between neolithic man and iron age man. So ... cities, agriculture, basic metal working, alphabet, etc. Roughly 3000 - 1000 BCE. In fantasy terms, any setting where iron is rare and city-states are the norm. Sword and sandals.

Chris: OK, good enough. Paul and I are in the final stages of just such a project, but it won't be out until next year and it's more book that you usually want. But it does have city states up the wazoo.

Here's the best of the rest:

Red Gods of Babylon looks very cool. Full game, appears to be free. The creator makes some odd errors, but only a scholar would notice. This product more than any other I've seen demonstrates a serious historical effort. I haven't had a chance to properly read it, so can't comment on the system, but it looks like something I'd have fun playing.

Blood & Bronze is looks to be more made up than historical, judging by this line from the review: "Ninlil, the Queen of No Court, the patron deity of adventurers and caravan-folk, of shipwrecks, graverobbers, and runaways." This is just pure invention, as far as I can tell. Doesn't bear much relation to historical Ninlil, in any case. But the product looks pretty slick.

Ancient Kingdoms: Mesopotamia is, as near as I can tell, a fantasy setting inspired by Mesopotamia, with little to no historical merit.

Ankur: Kingdom of the Gods I have no idea if this was ever actually published, but it has ancient aliens. Seems to be inspired by Sitchin, not history.

The Ishtar Gate seems to be Spanish language only, another fantasy setting inspired by Mesopotamia.

There used to be a fan made setting for BRP systems called Uruk that was pretty good, but only in French, and doesn't seem to be available anymore. There was also a BRP ancient Egypt book, but only in Italian.

GURPS probably has a few, and their products are well regarded. Low Tech is a kind of bronze age equipment guide that I see talked about a lot.

For a fantasy version of Egypt, there's Hamunaptra by Green Ronin.

Also by Green Ronin, and more historical is Trojan War, but Im not sure really how historical it is, or how Bronze Age it is. The Trojan War took place at the cusp of the Iron Age, and everything we know about it comes from Homer who wrote 400 years later, and only some of what he had to say was born up archaeologically.

And of course there's Testament which is really iron age, but is pretty cool all the same, and a decent historical effort.

You know about Agon, also set just after the Trojan War. And also in that vein is Arete which looks pretty cool. I'd buy it if there was a print version I didn't have to pay an arm and leg for for shipping.

A homeric game using Pendragon rules was supposedly written, but never published.

And you know Paul Elliott made a bunch of free historical games like Zenobia and Warlords of Alexander. Those are all iron age, though. There are a bunch of Rome games (iron age). And Paul's own very cool Hunters of Alexandria, also iron age.

That's all I'm aware of. Most people seem to think that Greek Hoplites = Bronze age, which is why I asked.

I've not so far seen any treatment of these bronze age cultures: Crete, Hittites, Elamites, Indus Valley, Mycenaeans, or China (though a Mycenaean book will also be released next year in the same series as our Babylonian book).

How's that?

Ray: That's so awesome!! So here's the thing, I was going to talk (briefly!) about bronze age games on my podcast. Do you want me to tease that you and Paul are working on one or just keep my mouth shut about that?

Chris: You can tease if you want. It's called Mythic Babylon, published by the Design Mechanism as part of their Mythic series for their game, Mythras. Already published are Mythic Britain (dark ages), Mythic Rome (republic, iron age), and Mythic Constantinople (early medieval). Coming next year are Mythic Babylon (middle bronze age) and (perhaps) Mythic Mycenae (late bronze age). I head tell of a New Kingdom Egypt, too which would be late bronze age.

And yes, I meant Paul Mitchell for Hunters of Alexandria, and Paul Elliott for Warriors of Alexander and Zenobia.

Paul: Apocryphal has already mentioned most of the ones I'm familiar with, including Agon and the Mythic series.

For a purely fantasy but bronze-age inspired setting, there's a Fate-based game, Crestfallen.

While still talking about purely fantasy games, Glorantha is a bronze age setting and the myths are certainly Mesopotamian-inspired.

If you want a really out-there take on ancient Greece, there's Hellas (Ancient Greeks in space!)

And lastly, still on ancient Greece, and more historical than the above, but still more mythical (not to mention Iron Age rather than Bronze Age), there's Blood of the Gods, the first published RPG thing I wrote.

Chris: To be clear about Glorantha, it's an original fantasy setting where Bronze is the main metal, but other than that it's not especially 'bronze age'. It draws from many times and cultures, and some parts of the world are inspired by Bronze Age Mesopotamia. I think I can see Hittite influences in the myths. It really is its own setting (and one of the best ever published IMO), not just a fantasy version of our world with the serial numbers filed off.

Of the other games mentioned above, Tekumel isn't a bronze age game. If anything it's science-fantasy. It draws inspiration from ancient India, Mesoamerica, and other places. It's thoroughly fascinating.

Earthdawn I'm not really familiar with, but I'd be surprised if it's 'bronze age'. It really ought to take more than just 'bronze is the metal we use' to make something 'bronze age'. Let's call this kind of game 'Bronze Envy'.

Ray: Bronze Envy. LOL. That's good.