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[Fantasy Craft] Collaborative Setting: The Elves of Cyprus

Neal

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So I'm working through the Fantasy Craft core rules (you can see my Let's Read here), and I've been playing way too much Crusader Kings II (and reading up on the High Middle Ages in general) lately. These two elements have fused into the start of a campaign idea, and I figured this is as good a place as any to incubate it.

The year is 1156. Henry II establishes the Plantagenet dynasty in England, which is in the early stages of its centuries-long rivalry with France. The Fatimids struggle to hold onto the last tattered remnants of their dying caliphate. Frederick Barbarossa is just settling into the throne of the Holy Roman Empire. Nur ed-Din indignantly eyes the territories of Baldwin III of Jerusalem while Manuel I watches from Constantinople. It is an age of giants.

It is in the northern reaches of the Holy Land, in the Principality of Antioch, that the campaign begins. At the outset, this is a strictly historical game, with the PCs as Frankish Crusaders (or their retinues) who have come to Outremer on the winds of the Second Crusade. Perhaps they sought the redemption of papal indulgence. Perhaps they burned with bloodlust and hatred of the Saracen. Maybe they wanted a minor title and some free land in the reclaimed Edessa. Either way, the Crusade failed, Edessa remained in Muslim hands, and the PCs find themselves attached to the court of Renaud du Chatillon, adventurer, Prince of Antioch, and all-around terrible person.

Renaud has decided that the Byzantine Emperor owes him a debt and has decided to raid the island of Cyprus in retaliation. Denied funding for his expedition by the Bishop of Antioch, Renaud has the churchman stripped naked, slathered with honey, and chained to a Middle Eastern rooftop in the middle of summer. A few days later, his expedition duly funded by the near-dead bishop, Renaud sets off for Cyprus with the PCs in tow.

In our history, the raid was successful, Cyprus was plundered, the island's nobles were ransomed off for exorbitant sums, and Renaud was suitably chastened when a justifiably upset Manuel I Comnenus brought the might of Byzantium to bear on the tiny Principality of Antioch. Renaud continued to be a no-goodnik for a few more years before finally being personally beheaded by an enraged Saladin in 1187.

Here, though, is where I deviate from the historical record. Cyprus, in this campaign, isn't just another rich jewel in the Eastern Roman Imperial crown. Some centuries before, on another world, elves fled a civil war through a portal that opened onto Cyprus. Maybe I'll go the obvious route and put the portal on Mount Olympus, maybe not. The elves created new homes on the island, making it a secret place of magic and wonder. But the portal still stood open, and the beleaguered outcasts had to fight off constant incursions from their enemies on the other side. Finally, the elves sent emissaries to Constantinople, pledging fealty and promising the Byzantines wealth and magic in exchange for keeping their existence secret and helping to garrison the portal.

Renaud's invasion changed all that. Not only did the Latins see things on the island of Cyprus that they were not meant to see, but the butchery of the Varangian Guardsmen that were stationed at the portal has left the island and, indeed, the world vulnerable to incursions from another world.

I'm going for a strange mix of inspirations here. Cyprus could become a Western Marches. Or the interactions with the elves could end up becoming a medieval fantasy District 9. Crusader politics could bring in Kingdom of Heaven, the initial invasion could call on the feel of Apocalypse Now. It could become a conspiracy horror movie as the PCs struggle to get the western kings to believe their frantic rantings, or a world-spanning game of intrigue as they rally Latin Christendom to a Crusade to Cyprus and beyond. Heck, Half-Life may come into play, depending on how weird I decide to make the elves' home world.

So what do you all think? I figure Fantasy Craft offers enough "non-mage" careers that, at least early on, the PCs won't feel the lack of magic. I'm still a neophyte at the system (and that's only counting the parts I've read so far!), so any mechanical advice you can lend to making this work will be much appreciated. Cyprus is just such a cool island, with so many neat features (like a salt lake! And the Monastery of St. Nicholas of the Cats! And the Baths of Aphrodite! And Mount Friggin' Olympus!), that I'm always on the lookout of more things there that I might've missed. And a few centuries of Elven habitation may also have changed things, so some ideas there are also welcome. Heck, any ideas are welcome, even if it's just "You suck!" I look forward to seeing what you all think.
 

tobygrandjean

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Sure, sounds like a pretty cool setting if a bit brutal. I'd recommend skipping ahead to Chapter 7 and skimming through it to sort of figure out how this will all pull together and read through the campaign qualities and see which ones you might want to use. One of the nice bonuses is that while the PCs will all likely start as human, they'll still be very different.
 

Neal

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Sure, sounds like a pretty cool setting if a bit brutal. I'd recommend skipping ahead to Chapter 7 and skimming through it to sort of figure out how this will all pull together and read through the campaign qualities and see which ones you might want to use. One of the nice bonuses is that while the PCs will all likely start as human, they'll still be very different.
Yeah, seeing the amount of customization you can do without resorting to different races and magic in Fantasy Craft was what made me finally decide to do a hard historical background, even if it is designed to go off the rails rather quickly. I was just watching the ads for Defiance the other day (yet another influence...), and I got to thinking about the whole "aliens stranded on Earth" setup that is so prevalent in sci-fi. I thought about adapting the trope to fantasy, and this pitch is what came up.

I'm leaning to a strong grounding in the "real" world, with Cyprus as a strange, faerie sort of island, but the rest of the world mostly unaffected (except, perhaps, for the Byzantine court). A trip across the portal would be a climactic, possibly campaign-concluding event. I like the idea of a "magified" Cyprus as a Western Marches, ripe for exploration. I'm also keen on lots of interaction with historical figures and events, though I fear that if I go that route it'll just be my own personal "Tour de Realms." So I think I'll mostly stick to the island. Maybe open the campaign with the grand set-piece invasion sweeping the PCs along, then having them break with Renaud (or having Renaud killed), and the campaign turns to exploration and trying to undo the damage as best they can.

So I guess my questions are more about what the "fantasy" in the setting should be. Would Elves be enough, or should I make the other world your typical high fantasy kitchen sink? What neat locations or groups should Cyprus include? How would the various peoples and leaders of the world react to this secret, if it were to leak? As always, Collaborative Worldbuilding rules apply. I'm open to any and all ideas.
 

tobygrandjean

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Well, general thoughts are that 1) Elves are probably enough unless you decide to allow The Gift and/or Difficult Magic. Perhaps Miracles... But probably not. 2) Most rulers will probably be sceptical but will push to aquire the island short of war unless a working magic is found. Basically, consider how long the belief in Prestor John lasted and how much effort was spent trying to find his kingdom. 3) Slaves or prisoners will be taken but regarded more as curiosities than anything else. After all, elves are more or less human as it is.
 
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