Over the past few weeks, as I was distracted by a surprisingly busy real life schedule, I pondered what sort of world Enderra would be in its latest iteration. I was certain it would be a “points of light” style setting – a lot of wilderness with civilization surviving in the nooks and crannies of a dangerous world. The best real world match, I decided, would be post-Western Roman Empire late antiquity/early middle ages. The Dark Ages, as we like to call them.
While total societal collapse alone is all fun and games (until it happens to the country you live in), a civilization going out with a whimper and just fading away isn’t particularly interesting. And why are humans (and the other civilized races) not simply rebuilding?
The answer – as you presumably guessed from the headline of this post – is an added complication. The climate of Enderra has cooled dramatically since the days of the Menorian Empire. Summers are short and cold, and usually rainy. Winters are much harsher, with heavier snowfalls, frozen rivers and coastal waters. In some regions, the snow never really melts year-round.
The consequences are dire. Crops fail with regularity, where they can be grown at all. Many areas have reverted to hunting and gathering. Even fishing is hard when the ice extends many miles off shore. Even augmented by magic and the use of greenhouses, food production is nowhere near enough to support pre-collapse population numbers. At the same time, the harsh climate has made wild beasts and monsters all that more likely to prey on humans.
In short, Enderra is experiencing a harsher version of the Little Ice Age.
I’ve always loved winter imagery – you may recall that this site had winter landscapes as its headers for the longest time, and in 2014 I hosted a Blog Carnival about the Icy Embrace of Winter. Skyrim is one of my favorite video games, as is The Bard’s Tale – granted, there wasn’t much actual winter depicted in the original game, but it was still set in a city beset by ice and snow.
In practical terms, this means as little or as much as a prospective game master wants it to mean. You can, uh, embrace the concept wholeheartedly and add winter survival themes and mechanics to every adventure. Low visibility from falling snow, early nightfall and long nights add a touch of mystery to any environment. It helps explain why the adventurers might come across a relatively untouched Menorian ruin. In reality, old ruins were not only looted, but often quarried for the construction of new houses. It should even help keep the power curve flat, when a good fur armor’s protection from the harsh temperature becomes more important than a full metal plate armor’s better armor rating.
And if you don’t like snow all the time, set your adventures during a summer season. As the peasants emerge from the relative safety of their towns and hamlets to begin growing much-needed crops, monsters hungry from a long winter descend from the mountains.
I think a lot can be done with a not-so-little Ice Age, and little complications like this certainly make things a lot more interesting.